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.
USMNT vs Switzerland preview: Last time they met, Michael Bradley scored the winner with a full head of hair
Mar 30, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT
Maurice Edu and Danny Szetela helped the goal get going, and Bradley was barely more than 20 years old.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT
Fortunately for Chedjou, Cameroon came back to beat Thailand 3-2.
Mar 30, 2015, 9:24 PM EDT
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Mar 30, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT
The anthem that blared over the loudspeaker happened to belong to Isle of Man, not on-field participants El Salvador.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:46 PM EDT
Reports say he was lost after leaving a fraternity party near the University of Southern California.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT
Who claimed the honors for Week 4 in Major League Soccer? The only former Ballon d’Or winner in the league!
Mar 30, 2015, 6:26 PM EDT
The Western New York Flash are reaping the rewards of Abby Wambach’s refusal to play ball.
Mar 30, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Wright helped the U.S. qualify for this summer’s U-17 World Cup, and recorded 18 goals and 7 assists in 22 games for the side.
Mar 30, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT
The tournament begins July 7, with Los Catrachos facing the USMNT in Frisco, Texas.
Mar 30, 2015, 3:27 PM EDT
Few have successfully predicted the erratic USMNT lineups over the last few months, but here’s our best shot.
Mar 30, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT
The Dutchman’s agent says he has not spoken with any teams, including the Red Devils.
Mar 30, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT
A salty relationship between the Bulgarian striker and his Dutch boss led to the “Dream Team” member departing Barcelona a year later.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
The 42-year-old’s 126th career goal is a world record.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
The 27-year-old Belgian saw a picture that touched him enough to reach out.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:39 AM EDT
After being knocked unconscious by a flare, the Russian shot-stopper will be fit to play a crucial league match this weekend.
Mar 30, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
England has refrained from bidding for World Cups since their relationship with Sepp Blatter has soured, but that could change in the next vote or two.
Mar 30, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
Barcelona striker Neymar was furious with former Premier League defender Gary Medel, who clattered him hard during the first half of a physical match.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT
The 26-year-old scored for the Mexican team this weekend, but remains frustrated at the club level.
Mar 29, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
Are Saints about to lose another young star to one of the Premier League’s “big five?” We’ll find out this summer.
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