Milan aim to stop Euro star Crouch

Italians will have their hands full – and necks aching – trying to deal with freakish talent of Spurs striker
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The Independent Football

English football has had 10 years to come to terms with Peter Crouch, both as an opponent and a protagonist. Respect has belatedly been granted, chants of "freak" are no longer heard and the day he was booed in an inter-national at Wembley is long gone. Continental Europe, however, still gives the impression of not quite understanding the gangling striker or how to play him; it is as if the artists of Madrid or Milan feel it is somehow beneath them (unlike Crouch is) to have to deal with someone whose very presence tends to encourage what is perceived abroad as archaic British long-ball play.

Contemptuous or not, going into Wednesday's Champions' League second leg at White Hart Lane, the Serie A leaders Milan are trailing to the seventh goal of the campaign by the Tottenham striker. The one scored in San Siro three weeks ago may have been all along the ground, following Aaron Lennon's dashing run and low cross, but the home side had found Crouch equally hard to contain in the air and they are guaranteed to face more of the same.

That is the promise from the Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp, who says: "Crouchy's had a good European campaign, he's scored his goals and made goals for [Rafael] Van der Vaart. They've been the pair I've gone with in Europe and it's worked well." Fitness permitting after today's important Premier League game away to Wolves, the same duo will be unleashed on Wednesday, Redknapp scorning any suggestion that knocking high balls to Crouch is too predictable an approach.

"I don't want to avoid that, no. When Crouchy's there, if you don't knock balls up to him I may as well not play him. If you can clip a ball 35 or 40 yards from a wide position, hit Crouchy, he's gonna head it down, we get in and score a goal. I'm not asking them to play long balls, I'm asking them to play to Peter's strengths, not pass a five-yard ball backwards or square. Otherwise I can't see any point in picking him."

Occasionally this season Crouch has been left out, as Spurs made use of Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe and the now-departed Robbie Keane. Like Defoe, he has found League goals hard to come by – but is still in the country's top 10 for assists – whereas all opponents on Tottenham's exciting run from the qualifying round to the knockout stage of the Champions' League have found their hands full and their necks aching.

"In England we have central defenders who are more used to heading the ball," Redknapp says. "In Spain or Italy they don't cross the ball so much, they play a different game. You don't often see Barcelona or Real Madrid crossing balls, they play one-twos around the box so when it does come into the box, they probably find it more difficult to deal with than English defences."

To that end, Spurs would love to have Gareth Bale charging down the opposite wing to Lennon, which makes it tempting to throw him into at least part of today's game at Molineux for some match practice after only one full training session.

If Luka Modric and Van der Vaart are fully fit, Redknapp will be happy to let his team play their natural game and pound the visitors, resisting any temptation merely to defend their lead: "It's a tough one with two-leg games when you've got an advantage. Do you stick or twist? But we've got to play it as a one-off and go for it.

"We'll pick an attacking team and have a go at them. It's a tough game against top opposition, they're still top of the Italian league and having a great year. I don't want people to think we've only got to turn up to win. We've got to be at our best. But we've got a great chance, we're at home with what'll be an amazing atmosphere, and we've got good players with pace in our team. I think we can hurt them, and I'm looking forward to it."

So is at least half of north London.

Pick of the European games

Champions' League:

Tuesday

Barcelona v Arsenal (Sky Sports 2) Twice in five seasons Barcelona have proved too good for Arsenal. This one should be closer to the Paris final of 2006 than last season's drubbing.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma (Sky Sports 4) A 3-2 home defeat in the first leg cost Claudio Ranieri his job and Roma now face elimination.

Wednesday

Schalke v Valencia (Sky Sports 2) The Spaniards should have known Raul's capabilities but his equaliser for Schalke has made them favourites.

Tottenham v Milan (ITV1) A goal from Peter Crouch gives Spurs hope of a famous Milanese double even if Gareth Bale is unavailable.

Europa League:

Thursday

Dynamo Kiev v Manchester City (8.05pm, ESPN) Andrey Shevchenko may be well past his prime but he managed two of Kiev's goals in an 8-1 aggregate win over Besiktas in the last round.

Sporting Braga v Liverpool (6pm, Five) Beaten 6-0 by Arsenal in September, the Portuguese side won the return but are mid-table in their national league.

PSV Eindhoven v Rangers (6pm, ESPN) League leaders in Holland, PSV did well to overcome Lille in the last round. Another severe test for Rangers.

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