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Pioli says gap between moneybags Premier League and Milan ‘too big’

Stefano Pioli says that the economic gap separating AC Milan from England’s top football clubs is getting too wide as his team prepares for a Champions League last-16 clash with Tottenham Hotspur.

Milan host Spurs on Tuesday in the opening leg of their first knockout tie in Europe’s top club competition since 2014, a match which comes after another transfer window of record spending by the Premier League which dwarfed the rest of Europe’s top divisions.

The last Italian team to win the Champions League was Inter Milan back in 2010 and Pioli is concerned about a yawning divide in spending capacity between the English clubs and the rest, which has fuelled new talk of a breakaway European Super League.

“I prefer to concentrate on on-field matters, but there’s no match for them economically,” Pioli told reporters at the Milanello training centre.

“If they spent 900 million euros (in January) and we in Italy didn’t spend anything it’s clear that there’s an economic gap which is too big.”

Milan take on Spurs after beating Torino on Friday and snapping a seven-match winless streak in all competitions which left their Serie A title defence in tatters and threatened to completely derail their season.

The last time Milan featured in the knockouts they were thrashed 5-1 on aggregate in the last 16 by Atletico Madrid, a defeat which prefaced them becoming also-rans for a tournament which they have won more times than any other club apart from Real Madrid.

They were also comfortably beaten twice by Chelsea in the group stage but Pioli said his team have learned from those defeats.

He will be boosted by the return of centre-back Fikayo Tomori from injury, while Algeria midfielder Ismael Bennacer didn’t train with his teammates on Monday at Milanello and will sit out the match.

“Regardless of who plays the experiences we have gone through will help us grow as a team and take on these kinds of challenges,” added Pioli.

Standing in Milan’s way of firmly re-establishing themselves among the continental elite is Antonio Conte, a former Juventus and Inter coach who is guaranteed a hostile reception from the home crowd.

“Conte is a great coach who prepares his teams very well for matches, he takes care of details,” said Pioli.

“They’re a team with English characteristics, who play direct and intense football which is physical and high quality but with an even higher level of tactical nous.

“We think we’re on the same level as Tottenham and can get through this round… Winning the Champions League right now would be a dream but we’re building something special.”

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