Stefano Pioli finally got the better of Antonio Conte on Tuesday as Milan defeated Tottenham Hotspur at the San Siro. Milan carries the one-goal advantage into the second leg in London in four weeks time.

It was a cagey affair, with two relatively out of form teams domestically going head to head in Europe’s premier competition. Entering the tie, Milan won just twice since the World Cup restart. Most concerning was the fact that one of those wins was the first game back. Then, the second win was this past weekend against Torino.

Most of Milan’s problems were defensive issues. Since the turn of the calendar year, Milan only managed its first clean sheet in that recent win over Torino. On the way, it conceded 19 goals over that eight games before that. However, Stefano Pioli finally got his players situated against a talented front three in Tottenham.

In a way, all Milan needed to do was get one early on and hunker down. So, that is what the Rossoneri did.

Brahim Díaz strikes early

From the offset, Milan looked the stronger of the two. The seven-time Champions League winners came out with aggression, and it did not take long to get on the scoresheet.

Theo Hernandez, a key cog in the Scudetto-winning side for Milan last season, found space on the left attacking side. Once in the box, he whipped a shot at Spurs backup goalkeeper Fraser Forster. Forster, in for a Hugo Lloris out for two months, made a strong save with his chest on the close range shot. The rebound came to Brahim Díaz. Despite making good contact, Fraser Forster got a big hand to it. The rebound, however, popped straight up, and Díaz lunged over him to nod it home.

It was Díaz’s first goal in the Champions League this season.

Milan shuts down Tottenham for remaining 90 minutes

Tottenham had more possession after the goal. It also mustered more shot attempts. However, none of these moves sparked any clear-cut attempt on goal. Instead, it was all hopeful play snuffed out by Milan’s defense.

At the center of that was Simon Kjær. The Danish international played well against Harry Kane, who appeared to be one of the few creating chances for Tottenham. Kjær and his comrades in defense did not provide key chances. Tottenham fired off 12 shots. But, only three of those reached goalkeeper Anton Tătărușanu.

Tottenham’s raging injury list did no favors to the side. Rodrigo Bentancur, Yves Bissouma and the aforementioned Hugo Lloris have potential to be key players in the Tottenham side. It put pressure on 20-year-old Pape Matar Sarr, who made just his eighth appearance on the season. Even then, Sarr looked decent in the middle of the park.

Conte will hope he can take one more step to help Harry Kane and Spurs find a way back into this tie in London. The reverse leg is March 8.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Marco Canoniero