If AC Milan is to turn the tables and get past Totenham in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League Wednesday at White Hart Lane, something unique might need to happen.
The Serie A leaders may have to rely on a solid performance from a teenager.
The Milan midfield has so many players out that the Rossoneri may have to turn to recently-turned 19-year-old Alexander Merkel.
Merkel was born in Kazakhstan to Russian parents of German ancestry. He moved to Germany when he was six years old and still has not decided if he will represent Germany or Russia as a senior international.
Merkel is likely to be called upon because Milan’s midfield is literally a mess.
Leader Andrea Pirlo and captain Massimo Ambrosini are out injured. Gennaro Gattuso is out suspended, Mark Van Bommel is ineligible for having already participated in this season’s Champions League with another club and Kevin Prince Boateng is struggling to regain fitness after an ankle injury this weekend. Boateng did practice Tuesday, however.
This leaves Milan’s midfield with veteran Clarence Seedorf, Matthieu Flamini, Merkel, Boateng and another youngster in Rodney Strasser.
Up front, Milan has just three strikers available in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato and Robinho as Antonio Cassano is also ineligible. All three are expected to start.
Through it all, Milan remains optimistic. But Totenham returns its best player, Gareth Bale to the left side of the midfield.
Bale will likely encounter Flamini and Ignazio Abate along the right side of the Milan midfield and defense.
Who will be Milan’s starting left back is a question mark. Marek Jankulovski has played recently, but Luca Antonini, Gianluca Zambrotta and Massimo Oddo are available. Zambrotta is coming off of an injury and may not be ready for a full match. Aaron Lennon is a quick young wing and Antonini, who played in the first leg, is the only of the four under age 30.
Lennon will encounter one of the four mentioned along with Merkel or Boateng, who will run the left side of the Milan midfield.
AC Milan has seven players from Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning side and yet just center back Alessandro Nesta is expected to start against Totenham.
Nesta is expected to partner with Brazilian Thiago Silva in the center of the defense. In the first leg, Milan experimented with Thiago Silva as a midfielder. But the experiment did not work and the Brazilian will be back in his normal role.
What will be interesting to see is if Totenham is able to get past Nesta and Thiago Silva, which have been very difficult to penetrate.
The odds of Milan getting past Totenham on the road given the current state of its lineup are not very strong. But stranger things have happened and the Rossoneri only trail by a goal in this tie and could make things interesting if they score a goal or two.