Can Milan roll back the years against highflying Atletico?
AC Milan are one of the giants of European football, but tradition and history will count for nothing on Wednesday night unless the famous old Italian club raise their game considerably for the visit of La Liga highflyers Atletico Madrid in an intriguing Champions League first leg tie.
Not so long ago, if you saw Coral’s odds of 14/5 Milan, 11/10 Atletico, you would think you were looking at a misprint.
But while the seven-times European champions languish in mid-table in Serie A with no hope of qualifying for next season’s competition, their Spanish opponents are doing the unthinkable and going toe-to-toe with Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Everybody has been waiting for Atletico to fade away and leave the Spanish royalty to their customary private battle, but though there have been recent wobbles, Diego Simeone’s exciting side are still right in the mix. All three teams are on 60 points after the latest round of matches and the bookies have long stopped regarding this season’s La Liga title race as a two-horse affair.
Atletico also impressed in the Champions League group stage, so much so that many have started to believe they can go all the way (14/1 with Coral). The nearest they came to being European champions was 40 years ago when they lost to Bayern Munich after a replay, but they won the Europa Cup in both 2010 and 2012 and so have good recent memories of putting a successful Cup run together.
David Villa (15/8 to score at any time, 6/1 first or last) has been an inspired acquisition from Barcelona, but the main man up front for Atletico is Diego Costa (5/4 and 5/1), a real handful physically and now a genuine world class striker, the target of several European moneybags.
The Italians are looking to Milan legend Clarence Seedorf to lift them out of the doldrums, but there is much work to be done. Mario Balotelli, who scored a late winner against Bologna at the weekend, and Kaka are capable of moments of brilliance (so is Robinho, but he isn’t playing), but they are clearly lacking real substance throughout the side.
Even so, you would expect them to raise their game for an occasion like this and though they might not have the quality to knock Atletico out of the competition, they might just have enough to hold the visitors to a draw (23/10) and so keep the interest alive for the second leg. Coral’s 1-1 (11/2) makes appeal.