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.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Nick Rimando snared the league’s honor, but the Dancing Bear claims PST’s first weekly award.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:02 PM EDT
Can the Gunners go on the road and beat Bayern 2-0 for a second-straight season in the UCL?
Mar 11, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
American investment company now owns 25 percent of United’s total shares on the NYSE:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
Newcastle boss full of remorse after unsavory incident lands him in hot water:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
Pardew reprimanded by the FA, is his ban long enough?
Mar 11, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
German youth international, eligible to play for the USMNT, set to extend stay with Arsenal:
Mar 11, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
Ankle sprain is “a very rare and unique injury, and we are trying to treat it as well as possible.”
Mar 11, 2014, 4:55 AM EDT
Milan’s failed to turn its season around, with Atlético has stabilized after a February swoon.
Mar 11, 2014, 3:47 AM EDT
Bayern’s lost twice in the last 12 months – once to Arsenal. The holders will look to avoid a repeat of last year’s visit.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:32 PM EDT
There’s also a freshness under Mastroeni, who oozes the respectability that comes from a distinguished career.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:54 PM EDT
The Black Cats have played three less matches than the Bluebirds and two less than the Baggies. A win over Palace would land them even with the Eagles.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
“What I said to the players is ‘get it out of your head. Go home, reflect a little bit and I will do my best to come up with something better.’”
Mar 10, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
It wasn’t a pretty night to be in Turkey, as violent fans at Trabzonspor forced the abandonment of a match with rivals Fenerbahce on Monday night.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT
What to do with the goal-scoring 34-year-old Scot who’s out of contract in June?
Mar 10, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
“Kevin made a huge contribution to our qualification for the World Cup, he never let us down and now his dreams have died,” said Holland manager Louis van Gaal.
Mar 10, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT
Like Manuel Pellegrini and his distaste for a certain Swedish official, Wenger is also critical of UEFA slotting in a referee from a non-footballing power.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:58 PM EDT
MLS has become a decent destination for goalkeepers, with top internationals for Peru, Brazil and Panama plying their trades in the United States this season.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
Djalo, 27, hasn’t found his footing in Lisbon, playing in just three matches since then and spending parts of 2012 and 2013 on loan at Toulouse in Ligue 1, where he appeared 17 times.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Arsenal has been handed a boost for their massive Tuesday task of reversing Bayern Munich’s 2-0 advantage in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
“It’s like playing 1 1/2, 1 3/4 games in terms of damage to your body,” said Ryan Nelsen.
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