Saturday 23 September 2017

Spurs reach for the stars

Peter Crouch sees the funny side of things during Spurs' training session at the San Siro last night. Photo: Reuters
Peter Crouch sees the funny side of things during Spurs' training session at the San Siro last night. Photo: Reuters

Jason Burt in Milan

Up in the gods in the vertiginously imposing Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, Harry Redknapp declared that, for Tottenham, "the sky is the limit".

This flight of fancy of a Champions League campaign, which brings Spurs up against seven-time winners AC Milan tonight, can be the start of a new era for the club.

"We are now genuinely a team who can look to be a top-four team every year if we want to keep progressing and the owners want to give us the backing, which I think they do.

Tottenham is a big club with fantastic potential," Redknapp said ahead of a tie that kicks off the quest to reach the quarter-finals.

"There is nothing between us and Arsenal. We are right there on the coat-tails of Man City and we are not a million miles off Manchester United. A few years ago we would have been. The gap has closed massively and there is not a lot between the clubs anymore."

That ambition, he said, was shown in the -- albeit fruitless -- pursuit of £30m-plus strikers in the January transfer window, a pursuit which he said he expected to be renewed in the summer.

"To have Champions League football for the first time at Tottenham this year, they (the owners) have realised this is where we want to be," he added. "It's up to us to find the right targets."

More immediately, it is up to Redknapp, tonight, to find the right formula with depleted resources to achieve a result against the Serie A leaders that will keep the second leg alive.

"We have to make sure we are in the game when we get back to White Hart Lane," he said.

Quite how Spurs do that had William Gallas chuckling -- after all he had called for "caution" and here was the manager admitting his team could play only one way: to attack.

"I don't know which tactic we will play," Gallas said. "Only he (Redknapp) will know if we can do it (play with caution) or not."

The central defender did not have to wait long for an answer.

"We have not got the players to come here and shut up shop, we are an attacking team and that is how I like it," Redknapp said. "Whoever I play, (Aaron) Lennon, Rafa (Van der Vaart), we are not set up to come here and stick five defensive midfielders across the middle of the park because we haven't got them.

"Attacking football is what got us here in the first place. We have had a go all through this competition so we will have a right go again at San Siro. We can score here. I don't want to concede bags of goals, for sure... but as far as shutting up shop goes, it's a non-starter."

After a 38-year wait since the 1972 UEFA Cup semi-final to return to Milan, Spurs arrive here for the second time in four months and memories of that incredible evening, when they went four goals down to Inter Milan only for Gareth Bale to score an irresistible hat-trick that launched him on to a world stage, swirled around the press room.

"It was a big night for us," Redknapp said of a 4-3 defeat that felt like a victory. "If we had lost by six or seven it could have destroyed our season. The comeback that night was very important to where we are now."

But Spurs are also here without Bale, who has failed to recover from a back injury and did not travel.

Redknapp will decide today whether to gamble on Luka Modric, who is recovering from appendicitis. He is also without the injured Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas who is suspended. "This time we have not quite got the same personnel," Redknapp lamented.

Modric trained last night and despite Redknapp's declarations that he is not fit enough to start -- "the only two midfielders I have who are fit are Sandro and Palacios," he said -- it could be that the manager intends to gamble.

It may be worth it, especially if Redknapp is intent on attack. As long as Peter Crouch is fit, the only other selection quandary is to choose between the in-form Niko Kranjcar and the more defensively aware Steven Pienaar. If Modric plays, it could be bad news for his countryman.

Despite the difficulties, Redknapp claimed he would not have swapped the draw, and would rather play Milan than a team such as Copenhagen, who Spurs would have been strong favourites to eliminate.

"We've got to do it the hard way," emphasised Redknapp. "It's a great draw against one of the clubs in world football."

If they win, the sky will indeed be the limit, but it's a huge ask.

Confidence is rising at AC Milan -- and not just because there is now the swagger of Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their ranks.

This is a season of renewal, a time for changes to finally be made to a team who had grown old and stale.

After last Saturday's 4-0 destruction of Parma, which kept Milan at the top of Serie A, striker Antonio Cassano said: "We were really psyched-up for the game. If we play like that then no one can stop us."

Certainly the new coach, Massimilano Allegri, whose appointment last summer to replace Leonardo was something of a surprise, has brought energy, new ideas and a willingness to change.

Allegri showed steel also in bombing out another player of supreme confidence, Ronaldinho, despite the public declarations of president Silvio Berlusconi that the Brazilian was the best player of all time.

Milan are on the rise under the 43- year-old who was voted Serie A's coach of the year last season for his impressive work on a relative shoestring at Cagliari.

There have even been comparisons drawn between Allegri and Arrigo Sacchi. Both men come from relatively modest football backgrounds -- Sacchi's even more humble (as he was not even a player) and look at the success that he brought to the Rossoneri. He led them to the Italian title in 1986 and the European Cup in 1989 and 1990.

committed

Allegri, who was a midfielder for Cagliari, is also committed to attacking football and has, at his disposal, some of the biggest names in the world although one of those, Robinho, may miss out tonight. If not him then Alex Pato -- who has not scored in this competition since October 2009 -- could be excluded.

Not that Milan are invulnerable.

It is also only a year since they were humbled 7-2 over two legs by Manchester United at this same stage of the competition.

And there is pressure too. Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has warned that the club cannot be eliminated in the last 16 for a third year in a row. The relief that Spurs' Gareth Bale has not travelled has been palpable after his destruction of Inter. The Italians fear pace.

"For Milan the objective is to advance as far as possible in the Champions League," Allegri said yesterday, although he bridled at suggestions that Milan were not as strong as the likes of Real Madrid -- who topped their qualification group -- Bayern Munich and Chelsea.

"This is not true," he said. "We are ranking first in Serie A and we have been there for the last 13 weeks."

Allegri is denied the cup-tied new signings Cassano, Mark van Bommel and Urby Emmanuelson while Massimo Ambrosini and Kevin-Prince Boateng are injured, as is Andrea Pirlo, who after a long injury lay-off broke down in training last Friday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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