Feb 19, 2014, 3:04 AM EST
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.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
Mix Diskerud is on the move, and he may be headed south of the border.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:14 PM EST
Chicharito isn’t getting games for Real Madrid, but his agent insists he won’t end his loan deal early.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:46 PM EST
It may be 14 years after the fact, but Paul Scholes is owning up to his fault in one of the greatest goals of all-time.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:20 PM EST
Inspired by Monday’s loss, the USWNT were out for vengeance — and goals — against Argentina.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:36 PM EST
Find out who went where in Stage 2 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft on Thursday.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
As we head into the busy festive season, here’s how the rankings of power look before Week 17.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:46 PM EST
Winger set to return to full training, may return to action this Sunday at Anfield.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:11 PM EST
Germany end 2014 on top, as the USMNT sit steady inside the top 30.
Dec 18, 2014, 1:26 PM EST
Balotelli will now miss Liverpool’s match against Arsenal this weekend.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
Rogers worries about anti-gay laws in Russia, Qatar during World Cup tournaments.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:46 AM EST
Scunthorpe win 14-13 on penalty kicks… really?
Dec 18, 2014, 11:10 AM EST
Klinsmann’s son make six saves, but gets second-yellow as youth side beat Germany.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:17 AM EST
USMNT attacker heading back to MLS.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:50 AM EST
Vegas, baby! New soccer stadium gets seal of approval from city council… all they need now is an MLS expansion franchise.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:19 AM EST
Reus has been speeding around in his Aston Martin without a license. Gets biggest motoring fine in German history.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:54 AM EST
Dig into all the latest gossip, right here.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:13 PM EST
Could Cole be returning to the Premier League?
Dec 17, 2014, 10:35 PM EST
Bad jokes make Christmas.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:10 PM EST
Dec 17, 2014, 8:40 PM EST
Real Madrid cruised past Azul 4-0 and will be the heavy favorites come Saturday.
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