You would think after Gareth Bale's exploits against Internazionale in the Champions League earlier in the season, when he scored a hat-trick at the San Siro, the Italian club's neighbours and visitors to White Hart Lane tomorrow would have him down as the one to stop. Not so. Milan's Brazilian defender Thiago Silva instead says Peter Crouch is the man they fear most when they visit Tottenham Hotspur, attempting to overturn their 1-0 defeat of three weeks ago.
Crouch scored Spurs' late winner in the first leg and is in line to return for Harry Redknapp's starting team for the visit of the seven-times European champions and Italian league leaders, having watched Sunday's 3-3 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers from the bench.
Crouch saw Jermain Defoe score twice and Roman Pavlyuchenko once at Molineux but Redknapp is likely to turn to the former Liverpool striker. Crouch has been Spurs' unlikely hero in Europe this season with seven goals in eight games, compared with a meagre return of just two goals in 26 Premier League appearances.
Crouch's success in Europe is helped by Tottenham's opponents' lack of experience at dealing with such an aerial threat. Statistics at the weekend showed Crouch has won 71 per cent of his aerial duels in the Champions League, but 57 per cent in the Premier League. "He is the strongest player I have marked in the Champions League," Thiago Silva said yesterday of Crouch.
His team-mate, Robinho, agrees that Tottenham pose unfamiliar problems for Milan. The former Manchester City striker said: "They play in a different way, focusing on physical strength, plenty of crosses into the box, especially because they have a very tall player in Peter Crouch. I think they will play exactly the same way again."
Milan may be wary of Crouch, but perhaps they should be more concerned with Bale, who played the final 25 minutes of Sunday's game, his first action since 22 January when he suffered back problems.
Bale destroyed Internazionale in a memorable 3-1 victory at White Hart Lane in November, when he made the Inter right-back Maicon look like a stumbling novice. Now he comes up against Ignazio Abate, who has been the Milan right-back this season and played in the first leg, when Bale was absent, replaced by Steven Pienaar.
In his 25-minute display at Molineux, Bale demonstrated that he has fully recovered from his injury. Redknapp used him on the right flank, rather than his usual role on the left, but he was still able to power his way past George Elokobi four times.
Redknapp said: "He came on and made a big difference. He seems OK. We'll keep our fingers crossed. When he came on and started running with the ball it was exciting and we've missed that in the last five or six weeks."
The Tottenham manager also expects Rafael van der Vaart to be fit to face Milan, having been without the Dutch star for the past two games with a calf injury. Redknapp said: "We'll be positive. We'll play an attacking team. If [Aaron] Lennon's OK we'll play with Lennon and probably Bale and Crouchy's had a fantastic European campaign as well."
Milan travel to London without midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, who is banned following his post-match clash with Spurs assistant coach Joe Jordan. The Rossoneri's former Tottenham midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng is likely to miss the second leg with an ankle injury, leaving them with a makeshift midfield of Mathieu Flamini, Clarence Seedorf and German youngster Alexander Merkel.
Shakhtar Donetsk (3) v (2) Roma
* After becoming one of three Italian sides to lose the first leg of their Champions League tie at home, Roma travel to Ukraine looking to salvage matters under new management, having gone down 3-2 to Shakhtar Donetsk in the last days of Claudio Ranieri's reign. The former Chelsea manager resigned last month after 18 months in charge, leaving Vincenzo Montella to take on a caretaker role. The former Roma forward has guided the club to two wins and a draw since taking over, but is not underestimating tonight's task. "We must think about one game at a time," Montella (above) said. "We're going to Ukraine to win." Shakhtar, unbeaten in 11 home European games, are without Olexandr Kucher and Fernandinho through injury, while Roma have Jeremy Menez and Marco Cassetti suspended. Striker Adriano remains out with a shoulder injury. JAMES MARINER