Belfast Telegraph

Cautious Redknapp keeps Bale waiting in the wings

Harry Redknapp was yesterday fretting over the fitness of his flying winger Gareth Bale, but the Tottenham Hotspur manager has plenty of other reasons to be optimistic ahead of tonight's Champions League second leg with Milan.

On another night the potential loss of Bale might be decisive but following their 1-0 victory in the San Siro Tottenham still have many reasons to be optimistic ahead of tonight's second leg.

Redknapp described Bale as “struggling” with pains in his legs yesterday, saying: “I would love to have him to start the game, if he was fit enough but it doesn't look like he will be.”

Redknapp will leave the final decision until this morning but last night he was facing up to playing without the man who destroyed the European champions Internazionale not once, but twice, earlier this season.

Fabio Capello yesterday led the chorus singing Bale's praises, describing him as the “number one player in the world in his position”.

Bale may yet prove fit enough to start, but it seemed likely last night that he would start the game on the bench, with Stephen Pienaar set to take his place. Bale is likely to come on at some point, certainly if Tottenham need a goal. “If Milan see him on the bench it will give them a few concerns,” Redknapp said.

The Tottenham manager denied suggestions he was playing mind games over Bale's possible selection, although he kept the door open to picking the 21-year-old winger.

It certainly does no harm to keep Milan in the dark about whether or not the man who tore Inter's Brazilian star Maicon to shreds earlier this season will be starting.

Bale himself was giving nothing away. He said yesterday: “Milan have a string of big-name players, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho, and 1-0 is a slender lead. But I reckon Milan are thinking about what might happen to them.

“They will be a lot more worried than us. I don't know whether they are preoccupied about me returning to the side. All I can do is focus and give it my best.”

The potential loss of Bale, who had looked fit and able in his 25-minute comeback he played against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend, is a blow to Tottenham, who lead 1-0 following their surprise victory in the San Siro three weeks ago, but not a fatal one.

The European novices have plenty of other reasons to be confident. This may be Tottenham's debut season in the Champions League, but history is very much on their side tonight as they host seven-time winners Milan.

Only once in the 19 years of the Champions League's existence has a side done what Milan need to do — go through despite losing the first leg at home — and no one has done it since Ajax against Panathinaikos in 1996.

Another reason to be cheerful is the return of Rafael van der Vaart from a calf injury. The Dutchman will play just off Peter Crouch, the combination that has worked so well in Europe this season and has helped Crouch to seven goals from eight appearances.

Tottenham's wonderful home record this season, with four wins in Europe and 14 goals scored and just two conceded, is a further cause for optimism.

It is sure to be a raucous occasion, made even more fevered by the provocative actions of former Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini.

The Frenchman was guilty of a terrible foul on Vedran Corluka, who has now recovered.

Redknapp said: “Flamini will get a hot reception whatever I say.

“He knows what to expect I am sure that he has had it before.”

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