Pioli: Right time for Milan to face Tottenham in CL

MILAN (AP) — AC Milan might be turning things around just in time for its Champions League meeting with Tottenham, which is also trying to shake off its poor domestic form.

Milan heads into its first Champions League knockout match since 2014 on the back of a 1-0 win over Torino in Serie A, which ended a run of four straight losses in all competitions.

It was far from a perfect performance by Milan but coach Stefano Pioli said it helped “cleanse our spirit” after the poor run. Milan had been winless in seven matches stretching back to Jan. 4, a run that included two losses to bitter rival Inter Milan — one in the league and one in the Italian Super Cup — and also saw the Rossoneri knocked out of the Italian Cup by Torino.

“It has been a difficult month, for us and the whole club,” Pioli said. “We have to raise our game because the Champions League is more demanding and Tottenham is a strong team. It will be tough but it comes at the right time for us.”

Tottenham, meanwhile, travels to Italy for Tuesday’s round-of-16 match having lost three of its past five Premier League games. The latest was Saturday’s dispiriting 4-1 loss at struggling Leicester, which halted the momentum of a surprising win over Manchester City in the previous round.

Spurs coach Antonio Conte was back in the dugout for that match following surgery to remove his gallbladder. He now faces a return to Italy and San Siro, where he led Inter to the league title in 2021. The Italian coach also steered Juventus to three Serie A titles.

“It’s good for the club, the team and everyone to have Antonio back,” assistant coach assistant Cristian Stellini said. “He has to take it easy a bit, he cannot use his energy 100% and we have to give something more to cover the gap.”

Conte has a great record against Milan, having won 10 of 14 games against the Rossoneri as coach and only losing one.

The two sides have been drawn against each other once before in the Champions League, at the same stage in 2011. Tottenham progressed 1-0 on aggregate after Peter Crouch scored at San Siro in the first leg.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur after he was forced off in the second half of Saturday’s match with a knee injury.

Pioli could welcome defender Fikayo Tomori and midfielder Ismaël Bennacer back from injury after the pair trained on Sunday.

“It’s clear we are still far away from our best level, not least in psychological terms,” Pioli said. “But we’ll be ready to play to the best of our ability and with both great energy and enthusiasm.”


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