AC Milan vs Tottenham: How the Serie A champions can hurt Antonio Conte’s stuttering Spurs

Neither AC Milan nor Tottenham are coming into the Champions League week in good form, but Stefano Pioli's side may be able to take advantage of certain weaknesses in Antonio Conte's team to progress to the quarter-finals.

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As much as it was needed, a narrow 1-0 win over Torino which put an end to a three-game losing streak in Serie A may not be enough to get AC Milan fully back on track in time for a defining Champions League clash against Tottenham, but at least it could work as a first spark to turn the tide.

With a discouraging gap from league leaders Napoli preventing the Rossoneri from repeating last season’s success as Serie A champions, the prospect of securing a place in the Champions League quarter-finals is equally as exciting as it is necessary for the Stadio San Siro outfit, as it could prove that the growth process under Stefano Pioli can still continue without the need of a major revamp.

However, the game against the Granata saw the Diavolo pile up another meek display, with Olivier Giroud‘s winner being the only difference in a tight context between the reigning champions and a mid-table side.

Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring for AC Milan. (@acmilan)

How are Conte’s Tottenham doing?

Renowned for the consistency which has always been a typical trait of his sides, Antonio Conte has struggled more than he might have expected to make Tottenham the team he had imagined.

Following a convincing start to the Premier League season, which saw them remain undefeated for the opening seven games, Spurs were never able to put together three consecutive league wins, in addition to being made to sweat in order to progress in a Champions League group they were expected to dominate.

Antonio Conte’s tactical setup hasn’t changed much from the past, as he simply adjusted it to the personnel at his disposal. His trademark 3-5-2 has evolved into a 3-4-2-1 system, as the coach tried to make the most of the abundance of offensive players.

The former Inter boss deserves credit for how the chemistry between Harry Kane and Son Heung-min has developed, but the likes of Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison have also played a prominent role when available, adding both quality and physicality to Tottenham’s game.

Like Conte’s previous teams, the North London outfit also don’t seem particularly interested in keeping possession against high-profile opponents, as they prefer to hurt through quick and well-worked plays after winning the ball back, although their technical abilities coupled with impressive stamina can occasionally lead them to force their rivals into their own box and attack in numbers, especially when trying to turn things around.

While Spurs can boast the third-best attack in the league, almost averaging two goals per game, the Premier League high-tempo style has somehow prevented Conte from shaping a defensively compact team, as they have conceded 35 goals from 23 league games, more than any other side in the top 10.

The latest 4-1 defeat at the hands of Leicester once again highlighted Spurs‘ major issues: individual distractions, bad positioning and a passive attitude from defenders and holding midfielders are the main flaws that an inspired AC Milan side could take advantage of.

AC Milan’s weapons against Tottenham

Milan’s odds of eliminating Tottenham and making the Champions League quarter-finals are inevitably tied to their form โ€“ at their very best, the Rossoneri are a side able to pile constant pressure on their opponents, also forcing several mistakes in the build-up.

As much as Stefano Pioli‘s men seem to have lost some of these traits in recent weeks, the magnitude of the game ahead of them is appropriate to ignite a reaction, which heavily depends on the team’s biggest stars, Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez.

Theo Hernandez in action for AC milan against Spezia. [@acmilan]

The two fully embody the qualities that could make the Rossoneri dangerous opponents for the Spurs, as their lightning breaks and ability to easily beat their direct markers could create superiority, notably down the left flank, and disrupt Tottenham’s tactical organisation.

In order to do that, however, Pioli should make sure his side rediscovers their high-pace approach, which would be key to opening gaps in their opponents’ rearguard with their quick transitions and direct attacks, a scenario that could easily see Spurs‘ defenders being caught by surprise.

Olivier Giroud‘s experience and Sandro Tonali‘s vision could also make a difference in a contest where both sides will try to compensate for their defensive fragilities by trying to make the most of their offensive potential.

Sandro Tonali celebrates scoring AC Milan’s winner at Verona. (@acmilan)

Previous meetings between AC Milan and Tottenham

AC Milan and Tottenham have already faced off once in the Champions League Round of 16, with the London outfit eventually progressing to the last eight. Back in 2011, Spurs were held to a goalless draw by Massimiliano Allegri‘s side in the first leg at home, before Peter Crouch scored the winner at the Stadio San Siro three weeks later.

The two sides also met in an official European competition in 1972, when a 2-1 win in London followed a 1-1 draw in Milan to earn Tottenham a place in the UEFA Cup final, where Spurs would beat Wolves to secure the trophy.

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