Can Spurs keep AC Milan tie alive after first leg at San Siro?

AFTER an underwhelming transfer window and a humiliating FA Cup exit, it has been easy to forget what this season is all about – the Champions League.

Few fans were bemoaning the absence of a �30million striker when Rafael Van der Vaart, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Peter Crouch scored in the 3-1 win over Inter Milan.

Along with the league, Europe was always going to be the priority this season, well ahead of both domestic cup competitions.

Of course the 4-0 defeat at Fulham was unpleasant, and it has sometimes been difficult to remember the bigger picture in the absence of the Champions League over the last two months.

However, clarity now returns as Spurs return to the San Siro to lock horns with one of Europe’s biggest heavyweights, AC Milan.

And, if Tottenham can progress to the quarter-finals while simultaneously keeping pace with their rivals in the league, the campaign will be set for a thrilling finale.

Whatever happens, there is sure to be a tingle down the spine as the teams are announced in Milan tomorrow night, and Spurs face some of the most famous names in world football.

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Nesta, Zambrotta, Gattuso, Seedorf, Pirlo, Van Bommel, Robinho, Filippo Inzaghi, Ibrahimovic, Pato.

The list goes on to the likes of goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, ex-Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini, former Spurs man Kevin-Prince Boateng and new signing Antonio Cassano.

It is a fearsome squad, even without the recently-departed Ronaldinho. The Rossoneri will be missing the cup-tied Van Bommel and Cassano, and Pirlo is injured, but they still sit top of Serie A, three points clear of Napoli and five ahead of Inter Milan.

And yet, despite all that, Tottenham have a chance – they have won all four of their home matches in this competition, beating Young Boys (4-0) in the qualifier before overcoming Twente (4-1), Inter (3-1) and Werder Bremen (3-0) – an aggregate score of 11-2.

The issue, the big question, is whether the Lilywhites will still be in the tie after the first leg in Milan – because they have conceded a lot of goals on the road.

Few will forget that Spurs were 3-0 down in Bern after 28 minutes, and 4-0 down after 35 minutes on their last visit to Milan.

Add the two conceded in Bremen and the three in Holland against Twente, and Redknapp’s side have hardly been the masters of shutting up shop on the continent – partly because that just isn’t their way.

They will have to be better this time because another nightmare start would probably be fatal. Milan are well equipped to close out a game and, while Gareth Bale brought Spurs roaring back in his last game at the San Siro, if Gattuso had been there he probably wouldn’t have got very far at all...

A clean sheet is probably too much to hope for, but a score draw would be fantastic and a one or even two-goal defeat would leave plenty to play for.

Anything else and the most eagerly-awaited cup tie in Spurs’ recent history could be over by half-time – like Fulham, but this one would really hurt.