5 things to know when Atletico plays AC Milan
MADRID (AP) — Mario Balotelli is back for AC Milan, and that could be bad news for Atletico Madrid.
Atletico, already holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg, will host Milan on Tuesday in the last 16 of the Champions League.
But Balotelli’s return after missing the first leg with a shoulder injury will be a boost for the Italian club as it looks for an eighth European Cup title.
Here are five things to know about the match at Vicente Calderon Stadium:
After missing the first leg with a shoulder injury, Mario Balotelli returned to action on Saturday as a substitute in Milan’s 1-0 loss at Udinese.
“Their team is stocked with talent, and Balotelli is one of their biggest threats. But not their only one,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said Monday. “Our worry will be about shutting down their play from the point where it begins, so it doesn’t reach him.”
Milan counterpart Clarence Seedorf said his team would not obsess over Atletico striker Diego Costa.
“They are important players for each team but I don’t want to overlook the rest of the squad,” Seedorf said. “Diego Costa is a fantastic player but Atletico plays as a team, that is their strength.”
Atletico hasn’t reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League since 1997 — when Simeone played for the club — but it has won all UEFA series after taking the first leg.
Milan, meanwhile, hasn’t overcome a first-leg home loss in Europe’s top-tier competition since the 1955-56 season when it rallied past German club Saarbrucken.
“I don’t know what kind of game to expect,” Simeone said. “After the first leg result, they need a goal. We need to control the game.”
The two clubs are going through very different seasons, but Milan coach Clarence Seedorf will look to his team’s first-leg loss for inspiration.
Milan put on one of the best performances of its season against Atletico at the San Siro, hitting the woodwork three times.
“They’ve got the minimum advantage, it’s an open game, equal for both teams,” Seedorf said from the Calderon on Monday. “We’ve been (underdogs) before. No one should forget that Milan is a club that has made history before.”
Simeone can count on a full squad against Milan after Portugal midfielder Tiago Mendes returned to training.
Striker Diego Costa missed Saturday’s 2-0 victory at Celta Vigo, and will be well-rested, with Simeone needing to decide whether to let the Spain striker lead the attack alone or partner him with David Villa, who has yet to play in the Champions League this season.
Tiago had been sidelined about one month because of separate knee and hand injuries.
“Diego Costa, (defender Diego) Godin, and (midfielder) Arda Turan will all return,” Simeone said, “and there could be more changes.”
Atletico is pushing for a first league title in 18 years and remains only three points behind Spanish leader Real Madrid after moving ahead of Barcelona.
Milan, meanwhile, recorded a second straight loss to slump to 10th in Serie A.
“This is a good way to forget about the pressures of the league,” Seedorf said. “This year Milan has had a bit of a particular story but we’d like to write a different chapter.”
Associated Press Writer Daniella Matar in Milan contributed to this report.