first leg : 0-0
AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti cut a relaxed figure before the make-or-break first knockout round visit of Arsenal FC as he revealed that the return of his leading lights offered plenty of cause for optimism.
By their standards the Rossoneri have struggled in Serie A this term. On Saturday, Massimo Oddo’s equaliser against S.S. Lazio gave Milan a fifth draw in six matches, leaving them 18 points behind leaders FC Internazionale Milano and four adrift of fourth-placed ACF Fiorentina – with qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League in the balance. However, if Carlo Ancelotti’s side have a split personality, the pros outweigh the cons. Last year, for example, a disappointing league campaign was more than tempered by a seventh European Champion Clubs’ Cup success.
“It is difficult to explain why we play better in the Champions League other than to say that this competition has always meant something extra special to this club,” said Ancelotti. “We’ve been through a sticky patch over recent games. We’ve had to get by without a number of players, but the fact most of them are back and have worked really well in training gives me the belief that they’ll give another great performance.”
Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, Kaká and Filippo Inzaghi are all expected to start after being rested against Lazio, although Clarence Seedorf, who strained a hamstring in the first half of that match, may join Emerson (shin), Marek Jankulovski (knee), Dida (back) and Ronaldo (knee) on the sidelines. Milan won all three group-stage games at the Giuseppe Meazza in the autumn, and knockout-stage victories here against Celtic FC, FC Bayern München and Manchester United FC last term have heartened Ancelotti.
“It is not by chance that we’ve always done well at home when we’ve had to,” he said. “We always manage to play with the right attitude in these knockout situations. Nil-nil is a result which needs to be managed intelligently – we must call on all our skill and experience, we mustn’t rush anything. In all our previous successes we managed to control the match. Patience is the key.”
Van Persie boost
Arsenal may also look to bide their time as they know an away goal could suffice to see them through. As with Milan, the Gunners’ domestic form has stuttered slightly, with draws against Birmingham City FC and Aston Villa FC, while injuries have deprived them of Eduardo (leg), Tomáš Rosický (hamstring) and Kolo Touré (calf). However, Abou Diaby is fit again and Robin van Persie has travelled with the squad to give the Premier League leaders what Arsène Wenger described as a “psychological edge”.
“We are highly focused, team spirit is very high and we believe we can do it,” said Wenger. “This is a young team we have, but the foundations were laid two years ago when we went to the Santiago Bernabéu, to Juventus and we played [FC] Barcelona. These are the sort of matches that every player wants to play, and I believe what counts is to know that your side has the necessary quality to win these games. I am confident these players have the qualities to win.”
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SUMBER : uefa.com