The Champions League returned last night, and Milan suffered a huge blow as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Spurs. It was a match which saw Milan’s experience count for nothing, as they crumpled to defeat to a relatively inexperienced Tottenham side. Peter Crouch scored the winner from a brilliant counter-attack to give Spurs the upper-hand going into the second leg at White Hart Lane. Here are some of the things we learned from the game.
Clarence Seedorf’s time is up
At 34, Seedorf’s time at the very top should come to an abrupt halt. The Dutchman is clearly past his prime and offers no guarantees to this Milan side. In the absence of Pirlo and Boateng, the passing burden was heavily thrown upon his shoulders. More often than not, he gifted possession to the Spurs midfield, thereby putting his side under heavy pressure. Seedorf looks slow and lethargic, and was quickly closed down by the impressive Wilson Palacios whenever he was in possession, leaving the Dutchman with no answers. Indeed, it was no surprise when Allegri opted to replace him with Pato at half-time.
Seedorf’s inclusion in the side in future will probably hinder young Alexander Merkel’s progress and limit his chances of gaining valuable Champions League experience. The former Dutch International is a liability at Milan now, with fans even turning on him. Having won four Champions League winners medals, it’s time for the Milan number 10 to hang up his boots, or preferably leave the club graciously for the his and the club’s good . His contract expires in the summer, and Milan will do well by refusing to offer him an extension.
Tottenham played the perfect away game
Going into this first leg of the tie as underdogs, Spurs put on the perfect performance away from home. The team from London were sturdy in defense and rarely gifted any chances to the talented Milan strikers. Spurs managed to silence the otherwise vociferous crowd at the San Siro by dominating possession in the first half. They scored a text-book counter-attack goal, giving them a priceless lead going into the second leg. Harry Redknapp’s men were assured in possession and rarely gave the ball away. He came to Milan with a plan, which was well executed by his team on the night. He couldn’t have asked for a better performance from his players, who displayed both maturity and team-work.
Through the dominating duo of Wilson Palacios and Sandro, Spurs controlled the midfield area and thus influenced the proceedings. They also offered more cover to the Spurs achilles heel – their defence. Steven Pienaar’s work-rate down the left hand side was excellent, as he curbed Abate’s surging runs down the right and helped out Assou-Ekotto in defence. Rafael Van der Vaart was exceptional when in possession, and was exactly the kind of player Milan lacked on the night. The Dutchman made the most of the ball, and was neat and tidy, rarely losing the ball and displayed all of his passing ability in linking play with the midfield and attack. He also managed to test Abbiati first, and later Amelia, with a few long range drives. Crouch made a nuisance of himself in the Milan defence, and scored the all important winner.
Antonini is simply not good enough for Milan
Milan haven’t had a top-class left back since the retirement of the great Paolo Maldini. Zambrotta was bought in, but he has been prone to a lot of injuries this season and hasn’t really been able to rediscover his old form. Current left back Luca Antonini clearly isn’t good enough to take up a starting position for the Rossoneri. The Italian’s lack of defensive qualities was once again exposed by Spurs’ pacy winger Aaron Lennon. While it can be argued that Mathieu Flamini didn’t do enough to support Antonini, Lennon had the better of the Milan fullback almost every time he ran at him. His direct running and tricky footwork often left Antonini perplexed and helpless in defense, and the latter will have nightmares about Lennon’s pace for days to come.
What Spurs did most effectively was stifling any sort of impact Ibrahimovic would have hoped to have on the game. The big Swede was well marshaled by the Spurs defence, and was often forced deep to receive the ball.When he did drop deep on one occasion, he gave the ball away, which consequently led to Crouch’s crucial winner. Dawson and Gallas kept him on a tight leash, and thus frustrated him a lot. Ibra’s uninspiring performance will only prove his detractors right about his ‘big game flop’ label. Milan looked like the Inter side of 2007-2009 which was heavily dependent on Ibrahimovic and failed to impress in the Champions League. Lack of support and movement alongside him meant it was a long night for the former Juventus striker; if Milan are going to have any chance of qualifying for the next round, he will need to overcome his mental barrier and put on the more familiar Ibra performance which he is renowned for.
What now for both teams?
Milan face the daunting task of overcoming a one nil deficit in London. Allegri will have to drop Seedorf and figure out a way to stop the returning Gareth Bale. The Welshman will add a whole new dimension to Spurs’ attack with his blistering pace down the left flank. Kevin Prince Boateng should make his return to first team action in time for the second leg, and will prove a valuable asset to the Milan tactician. The Ghanian will add much needed pace and tenacity against his old club. Allegri’s overdependance on Ibra can backfire, as Spurs have proven themselves to be more than capable of keeping the Swede quiet. Allegri needs to come up with a Plan B if Milan want to get out of the predicament they find themselves in.
Harry Redknapp will be hoping for ‘more of the same’ from his side, who go into the second leg as favourites with a vital away goal. With Bale and Luka Modric returning to the set-up, the Englishman can be quietly confident of his side’s chances of progressing through to the next round. Redknapp’s team need to play a high tempo which would worry Milan, and target the Rossoneri’s fullbacks. His team should go into the game with all guns blazing and put Milan on the backfoot, not allowing them to settle into the game