MILAN - If Tuesday's Champions League
last-16 first leg at home to Tottenham Hotspur is not going
well, AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri may look to the
players in the stands and think what might have been.
Two league draws in a row for the Serie A leaders were
followed by Saturday's 4-0 romp against Parma, with cut-price
January recruits Antonio Cassano and Mark van Bommel playing a
part in the victory.
The pair, along with former Ajax Amsterdam player Urby
Emanuelson, are ineligible to play for the seven-times winners
in the Champions League having featured in earlier rounds with
Sampdoria and Bayern Munich.
Milan knew this when they signed them but the pursuit of
their first scudetto since 2004 takes precedence over European
competition this season.
"We're first in the championship for the first time in years
so it's logical to think Milan's objective is the league title,"
Allegri told reporters.
Cassano's absence means Allegri is forced to play Zlatan
Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Alexandre Pato as his front three, with
no 'joker' on the bench to allow the coach to shuffle the pack
if goals are not forthcoming.
Midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini miss out due
to injury and the combative Van Bommel could at least have
patrolled the area in front of the back four even if pinging
60-metre Pirlo-esque passes is not his strong point.
Spurs, preparing for the biggest game in their first
Champions League campaign, have problems too with left winger
Gareth Bale missing because of a back injury and two more
creative influences doubtful.
Bale lit up the San Siro with a hat-trick in the 4-3 defeat
at holders Inter Milan in the group stage and was relishing a
return although with AC Milan among the clubs casting an eye,
his absence may be a blessing in disguise if Spurs want to keep
Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric are also key pieces in
manager Harry Redknapp's jigsaw but missed the 2-1 win at
Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday.
"They're struggling at the moment. Luka's had his appendix
operation and has just started jogging. Rafa's got a calf
strain," said Redknapp who has Jermaine Jenas suspended.
"Hopefully they won't be too long. It's difficult to know."
AC Milan: 32-Christian Abbiati; 17-Massimo Oddo, 33-Thiago
Silva, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 77-Luca Antonini; 8-Gennaro Gattuso,
16-Mathieu Flamini, 10-Clarence Seedorf; 70-Robinho; 11-Zlatan
Ibrahimovic, 7-Alexandre Pato
Tottenham Hotspur: 1-Heurelho Gomes; 22-Vedran Corluka,
20-Michael Dawson, 13-William Gallas, 32-Benoit Assou-Ekotto;
7-Aaron Lennon, 12-Wilson Palacios, 40-Steven Pienaar, 21-Niko
Kranjcar; 15-Peter Crouch, 18-Jermain Defoe
Referee: Stephane Lannoy (France)
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