Milan legend Andriy Shevchenko believes ‘It’s time for Rafael Leao to make a difference in the Champions League as well.’ The Rossoneri take on Tottenham Hotspur in London tonight and hold a slender lead from the first leg, courtesy of a Brahim Diaz goal which saw them edge the match at San Siro.
Speaking with La Gazzetta dello Sport, Sheva talked about the importance of the veteran striker Olivier Giroud in tonight’s game, but explained why he believes it’s time for Leao to show what he’s capable of on Europe’s biggest stage:
Giroud is recovered and ready to take the field: Are you banking on him?
“Knowing him, I know I am talking about a very good person and an excellent professional. I was surprised to hear him talked about as a good striker but not a goal scorer. Giroud has always scored, wherever he has been, here in England he did it with Arsenal and Chelsea. In the French national team he broke the record for goals scored. When I was in Milanello I saw he is still very much alive, full of energy and enthusiasm.”
What about Ibra?
“What I said for Giroud applies all the more to Zlatan. Ibra is even greater because of the motivation behind him. In the first leg, I say he would have come in handy for his experience and leadership. But when the decision was made not to list him there was no certainty about his physical condition.”
Who will have to play the role of the draftee in his place?
“I expect Leao to do it; he has all the qualities to be decisive at the highest level. It’s time for him to make a difference in the Champions League as well: he has so much to give and can grow even more. For example being more present in all phases of the game, more incisive with his plays, more of a leader in everything. I’m also rooting for De Ketelaere: a great game can ‘unlock’ him.”
What will the team have to do?
“Repeat the game they played in the first leg. I liked the Milan I saw at San Siro for mentality, always in the game. I saw very determined players, I rediscovered the team energy that was the basis of the successes. If they show up here in London with the same attitude and spirit they will play their part.”
Your former teammate Alessandro Nesta made a similar judgment: no sitting back, Milan must try to play the game. Do you agree?
“Better to have a one-goal lead than to start from 0-0, but Sandro is right. Milan must play as Milan, play their game and play it well. Be compact but also go on the attack, don’t just think about defending. Now they have experienced players who can handle situations but facing English teams at home is different, especially in the Champions League: Tottenham will want to increase the pressure. Milan must not take the wrong approach, be too defensive. They can really play its part, with the right head.”
What concepts should the coach insist on?
“Matches of such a high level require you to have maximum concentration. But they are also the nights that can give you unique satisfaction and allow you to grow even faster. You need total application, sacrifice. All the smallest details can make a difference in matches like that. I like Pioli in so many things he does, we had a good chat when I came back to Milanello. He knows his team like no one else, he has created a fantastic relationship with the players. You can also see it on the pitch, in the help his teammates give each other. A few weeks ago I had seen an underwhelming team, but against Spurs in the first leg and against Atalanta they reacted great.”
On the other side is Harry Kane: how do you stop him?
“He is a player who can put you in trouble in a second. He is a champion who plays for the team, a real leader, not an inch of space should be left for him. Thiaw and the defense, and with them the whole team, will have to be capable of a very careful competition, without the slightest mistake. Evenings like that can take you to the next level.”