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What we learned from Atlético’s Champions League win at Milan

Feb 19, 2014, 6:09 PM EDT

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  • For better or worse, Atlético appears to be back to its normal self

It wasn’t pretty, and those viewing the match through red-colored glasses will feel their team deserved better, but Wednesday’s game at the San Siro was very much a Diego Simeone-style victory. Since the Argentine boss took over at Atlético, his team has consistently found a way to win matches like there, where an otherwise even game can be stolen by a moment’s execution. Given one good chance to snare an away goal, Atlético converted.

For Colchonero supporters, it’s a good news-bad news scenario. The good news: That week that went loss to Real Madrid, loss to Almería, loss to Real Madrid is now two games in the past. The team that fought to the top of Spain before that? It’s still here, and apparently, it’s not going anywhere. Any fears that the season’s first five months were a fluke can be forgotten.

The bad news: In Champions League, that approach may lead to too many games like Wednesday’s. Eventually, you’ll run into a team with the quality to make you pay for your close calls. If Milan can keep up, so can any other team Atlético will meet in the quarterfinals.

  • Milan still making incremental progress 

Clarence Seedorf’s team could have early broken through within the first half hour. They dictated play, created the better chances, and only were only undone but the woodwork and some Thibault Courtois heroics. Had they maintained that pressure, Milan would have won.

But they’re not there yet. While they’ve made progress from the team that was struggling under Max Allegri, they’re not at the point where they’re crafting the clear cut chances they need to bear a goalkeeper like Courtois. In too many of their matches they need a late penalty or a Mario Balotelli wonder goal to get them two extra points. They’re still growing into their new selves.

On Wednesday, that allowed Atlético to stay in the match they eventually stole. But that doesn’t mean Milan’s not making progress.

  • Rossoneri capable of stealing this one in Madrid

With just a little more progress, Milan can beat Atlético. And now, with their trip to the Vincente Calderón barely peaking over the horizon, they’ve got two weeks to find it. One tactical break through, a little more familiarity with each others’ movements, or perhaps a little more confidence can get them over the top. They’re not that far off.

And they do have a player like Balotelli that can craft a miraculous goal. They do have Kaká, who showed brief flashes of his former self on Wednesday. They have talents like Adel Taarabt who, while not a great player, has the talent to be great in moments.

If the second leg in Madrid unfolds anything like tonight’s initial 90 minutes, Milan has a chance to accomplish something we may have mistakenly deemed a longshot. If Atlético’s unwilling to put them away, Seedorf’s team has the talent to steal it.

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