Feb 19, 2014, 3:04 AM EDT
It’s not just that Milan has struggled all season, their 10th place standing in Serie A a testament to the club’s most disappointing seasons in 15 years. It’s the fact that they matchup particularly poorly against Atlético Madrid, a team as comfortable without the ball as with. For a Rossoneri side strong in possession but weak in defense — a team that’s had trouble keeping goals off the scoresheet against capable counter attackers Napoli and Juventus (allowing eight in three games) — it’s a potential recipe for a landslide. As a Milan team that’s had trouble converting possession into goals presses for a home result, Atlético forwards Diego Costa and David Villa will get their chances against central defenders Adil Rami and Cristian Zaccardo.
Given how Atlético’s performed for most of this season, that’s how this game should play out, but in light of the Rojiblancos’ recent slide, the extent to which ‘most of this season’ applies is open to debate. Through the beginning of February, Atlético had only lost once all season. Then, in the span of eight days, Atleti lost three times: twice to Real Madrid; once to Almería. Though they bounced back this weekend with a 3-0 win over Valladolid (scoring twice in the first four minutes), 90 minutes weren’t enough to answer all questions. Has the Atlético that blew through the first five months of this season returned, or has February brought them back to earth?
If February’s Atlético is not the same team that tore through fall, Milan has reason to think they can advance. Though they have not been convincing since Clarence Seedorf took over for Max Allegri as head coach on Jan. 16, the team has improved, enough so that talents like Mario Balotelli and Kaká could craft a tie-turning goal if needed. If Atletico are closer to Milan’s level than they appeared this fall, the Rossoneri can play for that one crucial goal. They can play a possession game that waits (rather than pushes) for openings, trusting that a 180-minute game will produce at least one opportunity.
That’s Milan’s best hope, but consider the odds of that situation coming to fruition. In the six months since the 2013-14 season started, Atlético has had one back week. While that week has come relatively recently, it’s also been put into the near past by the team’s weekend result against Valladolid. What are the odds that, over this two-leg tie, Atlético will regress to that poor form? And what are the odds Diego Simeone’s team will play as they have throughout the other five-plus months of the season?
The only argument that sees Milan as a realistic threat relies on the irrelevant: history. With seven European titles, Milan is European elite, a status the means nothing come kickoff on Wednesday. While those results may translate into faith among the fanbase and some belief within the team, they also say nothing about the capabilities of the current squad. Better measures of Milan’s potential to upset Atlético are this year’s results, few of which recommend the Rossoneri as potential quarterfinalists.
Even if with midfield linchpin Tiago and left back Felipe Luis unlikely to play, Atlético should be considered heavy favorites to advance. The principles that allowed them to join Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain’s title race will still be evident on the field. Consistently able to outwork opponents without unduly exposing themselves, Atlético has developed a way to match up with almost any team in the world, their faith in their own effort making them a dark house in both Spain and Europe.
Whether Milan can match their effort will depend on the Atlético that shows up at the San Siro. If it’s the team that struggled throughout the middle of February, the Rossoneri can claim a result. If it’s the team that’s defined Atlético’s 2013-14 surge, Milan will be out of their league.
Sep 14, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Philippe Coutinho said that he would entertain an extension at Liverpool
Sep 14, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT
Jeremy Menez tallied a brace and a spectacular goal as AC Milan edged Parma in a high-scoring affair.
Sep 14, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
A very tough goal scored by FC Dallas striker Blas Perez from an MLS match last night.
Sep 14, 2014, 5:34 PM EDT
President Obama sent the Belgian embassy a pack of beer after he lost a World Cup bet on Twitter.
Sep 14, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
Ronaldo may eye a even bigger contract at the end of this season, but not at Real Madrid.
Sep 14, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
NBC’s Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino discuss the performances of Manchester United’s new players in a 4-0 drubbing of QPR.
Sep 14, 2014, 3:29 PM EDT
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas wasn’t opposed to fans whistling at him during Real Madrid’s match vs. Atletico Madrid.
Sep 14, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
After a comprehensive 90 minutes for their first win of the year, van Gaal is bullish on the Red Devils’ chances going forward.
Sep 14, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
With Newcastle’s managerial situation deteriorating rapidly, there is one week to turn things around.
Sep 14, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
After 450 matches for Manchester United, Rio Ferdinand returned to Old Trafford on the opposing end for the first time.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT
Angel Di Maria is good. Really, really good.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:12 PM EDT
The Bayern Munich loanee makes his professional league debut.
Sep 14, 2014, 11:38 AM EDT
It’s the first goal of his Premier League career for the $99 million man.
Sep 14, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
Falcao is not in the starting lineup in his first Manchester United game available for selection.
Sep 14, 2014, 9:51 AM EDT
Early estimates have Debuchy missing crucial Premier League matches against Chelsea as well as the North London derby.
Sep 14, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
Time could be up on Alan Pardew’s up and down tenure at Newcastle United.
Sep 14, 2014, 8:34 AM EDT
A thigh tear will mean the man who missed two years with an ACL tear will yet again see the sidelines for an extended period of time.
Sep 14, 2014, 7:46 AM EDT
Currently earning around just $2 million a year, it appears Paul Pogba will earn himself a stay at Juventus Stadium, and likely a raise as well.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:56 AM EDT
Two goals each for Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and a shutouts record for Hope Solo highlighted a lopsided night for the U.S. in Utah.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:08 AM EDT
A busy schedule in Major League Soccer leaves us playing catch-up on the day’s late games.
- Manchester United 4-0 QPR: Roaring first half signals intentions of new-look United 1
- Reports say Alan Pardew on thin ice as Newcastle front office eyes Hull’s Steve Bruce 0
- MLS Snapshot: Philadelphia Union 2-2 New York Red Bulls 0
- Late Turan goal gives Atletico 2-1 win at Real Madrid 0
- Saturday Premier League roundup: Chelsea win, Arsenal-Man City draw, Liverpool lose (video) 0
- Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa: Agbonlahor’s early score leads Villa past listless Liverpool (video) 2