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Milan’s Pioli relishing battle with Conte and Spurs

Stefano Pioli and Antonio Conte enjoyed several memorable duels during the latter's spell at Inter and will renew their rivalry on Tuesday

As Milan prepares to host Tottenham in their first appearance in the Champions League knockout stages since 2014, Stefano Pioli is looking forward to their meeting with old adversary Antonio Conte on Tuesday.

Milan advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since the 2013–14 campaign, – when they were destroyed 5-1 on aggregate by Atletico Madrid – by finishing second to Chelsea in Group E.

The former manager of Juventus and Inter is one of five Italian coaches still in the competition, and his Tottenham Hotspur team stands between Milan and a place in the round of eight.

Since 2013, Conte has defeated Milan eight out of nine times (L1). He adds his name to the impressive list of Italian managers who have advanced past the group stage, which also includes Stefano Pioli, Simone Inzaghi of Inter, Luciano Spalletti of Napoli, and champions league specialist Carlo Ancelotti of Real Madrid.

Asked who was the strongest of those coaches at Monday’s pre-match press conference, Pioli said:

“Ancelotti is a symbol but so are Conte and Spalletti.

“There are lots of good coaches, we have a good school and important characteristics.

“Conte is a great coach and one of the few colleagues who called to congratulate me on the Scudetto last season.

“It will be a difficult challenge, inevitably it will be like this for a quarter-final place. A week ago they beat Manchester City. It will be a great game that we will have to play well.”

Despite Milan’s absence from the latter stages of the competition in recent years, only Real Madrid (14) can better the Rossoneri’s tally of seven European Cup/Champions League titles.

When asked if Milan’s storied past in the competition might act as a psychological barrier for Spurs, Pioli responded:

“I can’t know what our opponents are experiencing, I know what we feel.

“We are highly motivated and it’s normal. We only think up to Tottenham. Winning the Champions League is a dream today but it’s useless to think about it now.”

Milan’s Champions League match against Spurs will play a significant role in determining whether their season is considered a success given that they are currently 18 points behind Serie A leaders Napoli and lost both the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana last month.

Speaking to Sky Sport ahead of his press conference, Pioli described the tie as the most crucial occasion of his career.

“They will be the two most important matches of my career, having never played in a Champions League round of 16. We have prepared ourselves in the best possible way,” he said.

“Our aim is to play with more pace and intensity, you can’t ignore that in these competitions. We have prepared ourselves to be up to it.”

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