Champions League Round of 16 • AC Milan-Tottenham Hotspur FC: Hearts' Desire

Tonight is the big night. Milan host Tottenham in the Champions League Round of 16 on Valentine's Day. Milan fans had been looking forward to this night until 2023 happened, with only two wins in ten matches, having conceded 19 goals in all competitions. But Spurs fans have seen their season have ups and downs and have new injuries and a manager coming back from surgery. Still, it is the Champions League, and both teams will dig deep to play for the win, everyone's hearts' desire.

My perfect Valentine's Day looks something like this

The big news for Tottenham was Conte, who just had his gall bladder removed less than two weeks ago. However, as we discussed on the preview podcast with Last Word on Spurs host Ricky Sacks, recent injuries to Sessegnon, Bissouma, Lloris, and most notably former Juventus midfielder Bentancur have left fans very anxious about their prospects. Well, that, and their 4-1 loss to lower half of the table Leicester City on Saturday.

Both Milan and Tottenham come into this match sitting in fifth place in their respective leagues. However, Spurs fans are puzzled by the fact that a week ago Sunday, Tottenham defeated Manchester City 1-0, despite finishing on ten men, then lost to Leicester City on Saturday. For the Leicester match, Conte ignored doctor's orders and was on the touchline. He lined up: Forster; Tanganga, Dier, Davies; Porro, Hojbjerg, Bentancur, former Inter player Perisić; former Juventus player Kulusevski, Son Heung-Min; and Harry Kane. In addition to the aforementioned injuries, Conte will also be without Hjobjerg, who is suspended for this match.

The normally fierce manager is not looking himself

Pioli received a boost when both Bennacer and Tomori returned to training with the team on Sunday, but Bennacer was unable to train on Monday and will not make this match. That leaves only two other injured players from our abbreviated Champions League squad, Maignan and Florenzi. Having only three players out injured is our best squad we have had in ages, and having Tomori back gives our defense a boost in confidence as well. 

Reports suggest that Thiaw may still start in Pioli's new three man defense, while we will likely see Krunić deputize for Bennacer again like he did in the 1-0 win over Torino on Friday. Our captain, Calabria, is likely to start on the bench again in favor of Mr. Champions League, Saelemaekers. I cannot imagine a world where Pioli drops Leão again, after all of the criticism he received. Well that, and our dismal performances without him.

Mr. Champions League

Both managers have faced one another both as players and then again as managers in Italy. They both had kind words for one another in their prematch press conferences. Pioli revealed that Conte was one of the few colleagues who had reached out to congratulate him after winning the Scudetto last year. And Conte also said that Pioli deserved credit for an extraordinary achievement last year. Which was a bit ironic, because when Conte won his Scudetto with Inter the previous year, he did it at Pioli's expense. Pioli's Milan side that year finished second, despite having a squad that was almost half the cost of Conte's. And Conte dedicated that trophy to himself, too. Pioli has been doing extraordinary things for years. 

Having finally managed a win will have certainly boosted Milan's confidence, but they will still need to bring their playing level up significantly from Friday's performance to even match Tottenham's poor performance on Saturday. Both sets of fans are filled with more anxiety than anticipation with recent developments. However, with any luck, Milan will give the fans in the packed San Siro their hearts' desire.

This post inspired by the music of The Cure's "Lovesong"

Our next match is 
Champions League Round of 16
AC Milan vs. Tottenham Hotspur FC
Tuesday, February 14, 2023 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)
This match can be streamed LIVE on Paramount+ in the U.S.

Champions League Round of 16 • AC Milan-Tottenham Hotspur FC: Hearts' Desire Champions League Round of 16 • AC Milan-Tottenham Hotspur FC: Hearts' Desire Reviewed by Elaine on 11:58 PM Rating: 5
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