Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Italy ahead of their Champions League clash against AC Milan with something of a midfield crisis and desperately hoping Rafael van der Vaart would be fit.
Tottenham sweating on Van der Vaart's fitness
Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Italy yesterday with something of a midfield crisis and desperately hoping Rafael van der Vaart would be fit for tonight's Champions League game with AC Milan.
Gareth Bale, who scored a hat-trick last time Spurs were in Milan, when they lost 4-3 to Inter in the group phase, misses the last-16, first-leg match with a back injury, while Jermaine Jenas is suspended.
Luka Modric is struggling as he recovers from an operation to remove his appendix less than two weeks ago, piling the pressure on Van der Vaart to overcome a calf strain that kept him out of Saturday's win at Sunderland.
"I have got to see how Rafa is," Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, said of the Dutchman.
The return to the first team of Niko Kranjcar, who has scored the winning goals in Spurs' last two league games, also gives Redknapp an attacking midfield option. Wilson Palacios and Sandro are the only fit central midfielders available, with Tom Huddlestone a long-term absentee.
"Niko deserves his place in the team," Redknapp said after the Croatian's goal at Sunderland on Saturday. "He's a top player."
Bale became the talk of Europe with his fine display in the San Siro and in the return match, when he tormented Maicon, one of the world's best right-backs, in a 3-1 victory that helped Spurs top their group.
"I'd like to scare Milan a bit and say he's available, but he's not," Redknapp said. "Gareth is taking a bit longer to heal. [But] we'll make sure it's right because he's a young lad and has a great future."
Milan also have midfield problems and Massimiliano Allegri, the manager, is without Massimo Ambrosini, Andrea Pirlo and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Allegri can at least count on the form of Clarence Seedorf in a midfield likely to feature Thiago Silva in a holding role.
Seedorf - the only player to win three Champions League titles with three different teams - set Milan on their way to a 4-0 win at home to Parma on Saturday with the first goal of the game.
"Seedorf is an incomparable player and he is wonderfully elegant," Silva said. "I'm not really happy about playing central midfield, but there is the need for me to do so and so I will do it.
"In truth I'm happier playing alongside Alessandro Nesta in defence, but I am ready to put myself at the service of the team."