Brahim Diaz’s early goal condemned Tottenham Hotspur to a 1-0 defeat at AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie, but Antonio Conte feels their fans can shout for victory back in north London.
Former Manchester City winger Diaz headed home from close range after seven minutes and Spurs were fortunate not to fall further behind in the closing stages when Milan spurned two glorious headed chances through Charles De Ketelaere and Malick Thiaw .
Instead, Conte will be relieved to return from a hostile San Siro with only a one-goal deficit having been forced to play a central midfield pairing of Oliver Skipp and Pape Sarr due to Rodrigo Bedancourt’s injury and Pierre-Emile Hoiberg’s suspension.
The skipper and Sarr performed well in difficult conditions on their full Champions League debuts but, in a fixture, Spurs, who were beaten 4-1 by Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday, struggled to break down the stubborn hosts.
Their personnel issues will continue in the second leg at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with a yellow card for Eric Dier meaning he will miss the win through suspension, but the one-goal margin of defeat means the tie is still open for Conte and the players of.
“I know the San Siro and I know the difficulty of playing in that atmosphere,” Conte said afterwards. “In the second leg, we have to play at our home ground and our fans will create the atmosphere to help us overcome the obstacle of Milan.”
Milan Tatarusanu (7), Thiaw (7), Kalulu (7), Kjaer (7), Hernandez (7), Saelemaekers (6), Krunic (7), Tonali (7), Diaz (7), Leao (8), Giroud (6).
Subs: De Ketelaere (5), Messias (6), Pombega (n/a), Rebić (n/a).
Tottenham: Forster (7), Emerson (6), Romero (5), Dyer (6), Lenglet (6), Perisic (7), Sarr (8), Skip (7), Kulusevski (5), Kane (6), Son (6).
Subs: Richarlison (6), Danjuma (6), Davies (6).
Player of the Match: Rafael Leao
How Milan won their victory
Conte claimed some of his players are struggling to cope with the pressure after the 4-1 defeat at Leicester and, in a raucous San Siro, Milan’s first leg appeared to provide further evidence.
The goal came after Theo Hernandez beat Cristian Romero to a long pass down the left and forced Forster, who then acrobatically saved Diaz’s follow-up, only for the winger to push the loose ball into the net with a diving header.
But despite having to work hard to contain the dangerous Rafael Leao, Spurs soon got into the game after the first goal, causing problems for the home side with a series of set-pieces, albeit without creating any clear-cut chances in the first half.
The second period began with a departure for the reckless Romero, who only received a yellow card, with VAR upholding the decision not to send him off, after tripping Sandro Tonali as Milan sprung on the counter-attack.
- Olivier Giroud was chosen to lead the line for Milan, flanked by Rafael Leao and former Manchester City player Brahim Diaz.
- Tottenham fielded Pape Sarr and Oliver Skipp in midfield with Rodrigo Bedancourt, Pierre-Emile Hoiberg and Yves Bishouma unavailable.
The game continued to follow a similar pattern after that, with Leao the only player to provide a spark for Milan and Spurs struggling to convert possession into goalscoring opportunities despite some dangerous moments.
Conte dropped Richarlison for Dejan Kulusevski in a bid to increase his side’s attacking threat, but they could muster only the occasional half-chances, with the impressive Sarr shooting just wide of Milan goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.
The home side then had two golden chances to take their advantage, with De Ketelaere, coming on as a substitute moments earlier, firing wide after Oliver Giroud crossed back into the danger area, and defender Thiaw does the same when selected. out by Leao in an even better position.
Dier failed to connect properly with a header of his own, from a corner, as Spurs tried to punish those Milan misses at the other end of the pitch, but Diaz’s goal ultimately proved decisive on the night, leaving the tie extremely poised for secondly. foot.
Conte: Our fans can help us get through
The Spurs coach Antonio Conte he said at his press conference: “I think it was a battle from start to finish.
“I think both teams played the game with a lot of intensity and a lot of pressure, it was difficult for us to play, it was difficult for them to play.
“It was a shame to concede a goal after five minutes, because I think in that situation, we could have done much better.
“Then we tried, but when you play against Milan, you have to be careful when you attack, prevent the counter-attack because they have players like (Rafael) Leao, also Theo Hernandez, and a point of reference like (Olivier) Giroud, who if it has room, it can kill you.”
Talking to you BT Sporthe added: “To qualify you have to play two games. It’s the first away game and the atmosphere was fantastic. I know the San Siro and I know how difficult it is to play in that atmosphere.
“In the second game we have to play at our home ground and our fans will create the atmosphere to help us overcome the obstacle of Milan.”
Analysis: Sar, Skip positive for Spurs
Antonio Conte will bemoan the defensive sloppiness that allowed Brahim Diaz to score Milan’s winner, but there were positives for him too. First, that the tie is still open before the second leg. And secondly, the performances of Pape Sarr and Oliver Skipp.
Char had never appeared in the competition before. In fact, this was only the 20-year-old’s sixth appearance for Spurs Any competition. But alongside Skip, making his Champions League debut at 22, he didn’t look out of place.
The pair were pressed into action by circumstances, of course, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg suspended and Rodrigo Bentancur joining the injured Yves Bissouma on the sidelines after rupturing his ACL in Saturday’s 4-1 Premier League defeat by Leicester .
But against a much more experienced midfield duo of Sandro Tonali and Rade Krunic, they competed well, using the ball neatly and, particularly in Sarr’s case, defending like a tiger. The Senegal international made five tackles and recovered possession 12 times – four more than anyone else on the pitch.
Conte: I’m happy for Sarr, Skipp
“Honestly, playing in this way in the Champions League, in the San Siro, in this atmosphere, I think it’s usually difficult for important players, but they played a very good game and I’m very happy.
“This kind of performance makes me more relaxed for the future.
“We have to think that we could finish the season with only three midfielders – Pape Sarr, Skippy and Pierre Emile Hojbjerg.
“So to have this kind of performance makes me more relaxed because I know I can rely on these two players 100%. I’m very happy for them.”
“It’s nice to have the coach’s confidence,” Skip said BT Sport Then, before Conte added, in his own interview, the academy product and his younger team-mate had “repaid” that trust. “I’m really pleased for both players,” added the Spurs boss.
At Hojbjerg, Conte will have to have at least one of his midfielders for next month’s second leg, but Sarr and Skipp have shown they can deliver when called upon.
“Having these kinds of performances from Skippy and Sarr makes me more relaxed,” Conte added. “I know I can trust them 100 percent.”
Pioli: We could have scored a second goal
The Milan boss Stefano Pioli: “It was not difficult to prepare this game regularly, with all the duels, but I am very happy with the performance of my players.
“We could have scored a second goal – we had some clear chances. I’m definitely happy with the performance but it’s only the first game and the next game will definitely be more difficult.”
Leao’s dazzling dribbles – Opta stats
- Rafael Leao completed nine dribbles in this game, the most by a player in a Champions League game this season and the most by a Milan player since Opta started collecting this data (2003/04).
- AC Milan beat Tottenham in European competition for the first time at the fifth attempt (D2 L2) and it’s their first win in their last 10 against English opposition (D1 L8), following a 4-0 win over Arsenal in 2012 in the Champions League . Link.
- Tottenham became the first English side to lose four consecutive Champions League knockout games against Arsenal between 2016 and 2017, with Antonio Conte’s side failing to score in each of those games.
- Milan enjoyed their first Champions League knockout win since beating Barcelona 2-0 in February 2013 in the last 16, losing each of the three since.
- Harry Kane’s 66th appearance for Tottenham in major European competitions, the most by any Spurs player, equal with Hugo Lloris.
What’s next for Spurs?
Sunday 19 February 16:00
Tottenham return to Premier League action with a home game against West Ham, live on Sky Sports Premier League on Sunday from 3.30pm. start 4.30 pm
Spurs will play the second leg of the Champions League 16-16 Milan on Wednesday 8 March at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. starting time 8 p.m.