Preview: Atlético Madrid back on track before Champions League visit from goal-shy Milan

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Whereas it initially looked like the goals would come for an AC Milan side that’s dominated possession under Clarence Seedorf, the opposite has happened. Instead of seeing the talents of Mario Balotelli, Kaka, Adel Tarrabt, and (cup-tied) Keisuke Honda shine as the Rossoneri became Serie A’s biggest ball hogs, Milan has been shutout in three of their last four games. Sitting 11th in Italy, Milan’s progress since Max Allegri’s departure has been aesthetic but not practical.

Atlético Madrid, on the other hand, have undergone a minor awakening since their three-game, early February losing streak, even if they still don’t look like their indestructible January selves. Having moved away from the idea that Diego or Jorge Sosa can provide more than depth, Milan’s Tuesday opposition has reverted back to what worked this fall. Even the idea that Barcelona refugee David Villa can form a partnership with Diego Costa has been forgotten in favor of full faith Raúl Garcia, who was in the starting lineup when Atleti played Real Madrid to a 2-2 draw nine days ago. With only a late Cristiano Ronaldo goal keeping them from full points, the Colchoneros again looked like a team that could do damage in UEFA Champions League.

First, Diego Simeone’s side needs to finish off its Round of 16 matchup against Milan, who visit the Vicente Calderón on Tuesday. Down 1-0 after leg one, however, the Rossoneri are on the wrong end of two trends. Short on goals and facing a team that’s rediscovering a dark horse’s form, Milan needs to do more than cash in on some of the promise they’ve shown under Seedorf. They need to do so against a team that’s been among Europe’s best for most of the season.

“When you lose the first leg, it is marvellous to be able to play again in a tie of such importance on the European stage,” Seedorf said, striking an optimistic note on Monday. “We can write history once more. It is always great to play in a stadium like this. We do not have to be worried by the atmosphere. We are ready for this kind of game.”

The easiest way for Milan to transcend Atlético’s advantages is to get transcendent performances from its stars. That starts with Balotelli, who returned this weekend from a shoulder injury incurred in leg one. They’ll need Kaká, who didn’t play this weekend against Udinese, to continue using the time machine he brought out a couple of times at the San Siro. They need Nigel de Jong to be both healthy and destructive in defensive midfield, while Taarabt must make Honda’s absence irrelevant. If all of that happens, Milan has a chance.

“Great players appear in these matches,” Simeone said on Monday. “[Mario] Balotelli is a dominant player, but Milan are dangerous in many other areas. He is dangerous but needs his team-mates around him.”

But Milan also needs Costa, one of the Spain’s leading scorers this season, to go quiet. It needs Diego Godín to be exposed in defense while Thibault Courtois has an off day in goal. It needs Arda Turan to become uninterested or unwilling to create chances, and it need Gabi and Koke’s service to go awry. Milan needs Atlético to have one of the bad days it was having this time last month – the type of result that gave this matchup an aura of doubt when it kicked off three weeks ago.

Since then, Atlético has stabilized, giving Simeone’s side the appearance of a quarterfinalist. Unless Seedorf can finally put all of his pieces together, the Colchoneros will move on.

(MORE: Bayern Munich on guard ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League visit)

Barcelona GM: “We’re close to signing Coutinho, Dembele”

Philippe Coutinho
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Barcelona did not post a magical comeback versus Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, instead losing 5-1 on aggregate after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

But perhaps the celebrated La Liga club has worked some wizardry in the transfer market, with not one but two big targets “close” to the Camp Nou.

Barca general manager Josep “Pep” Segura was on television after the match, and noted Spanish football expert Sid Lowe relays his words: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele are coming to Barca, “but until it’s closed I can’t say anything.”

Well, you just said something about it, so what gives.

Now before anyone freaks out at Anfield or Westfalenstadion, this is a man speaking after a relatively embarrassing performance for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Segura could simply be treading water for new manager Ernesto Valverde after his club was simply worked over in 120 minutes versus its El Clasico rivals.

VIDEO: Asensio, Real Madrid outclass out-of-sorts Barca; PSG trolls?

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This one wasn’t even close, and is going to instantly have many Barcelona fans wondering if the loss of Neymar is going to be too much for Ernesto Valverde to handle.

Real Madrid rode a stunning Marco Asensio strike to a 2-0 first half lead at the Bernabeu on Wednesday en route to a 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

It’s Real’s 10th Spanish Super Cup, and first since 2012.

[ MORE: Bacca to Villarreal ]

Karim Benzema also scored in the opening frame, which saw Barca looking out of sorts and rudderless.

As in the first leg in Barcelona, the Blaugranas had their moments but failed to show sharpness and class against the reigning La Liga and UEFA Champions League winners.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar, Luis Suarez headed off the post. The second half wasn’t producing a magic comeback.

Both teams kick off their La Liga seasons on Sunday, with Barca hosting Real Betis and Real off to Deportivo de la Coruna.

Meanwhile, it seems like PSG spent the afternoon trolling Barca, first posting a shot of ex-Blaugranas stars Dani Alves and Neymar training, and then an incredulous Neymar accompanied by a laughing emoji.

Carlos Bacca joins Villarreal, Boateng leaves Las Palmas

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MADRID (AP) Colombia striker Carlos Bacca joined Spanish club Villarreal on loan from AC Milan on Wednesday.

Villarreal said the one-season loan agreement includes the option to buy the player at the end of the season.

Bacca returns to a Spanish league where the 30-year-old forward flourished in two seasons at Sevilla before joining Milan in 2015.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

Bacca has made 39 appearances for Colombia, scoring 13 goals. According to Villarreal, he has scored 165 career goals in 336 matches. He scored 14 goals for Milan last season.

Elsewhere in Spain, Las Palmas announced that Kevin-Prince Boateng was leaving the club after both sides agreed to end his contract two days before its season opener.

Las Palmas said that Boateng was leaving due to “personal reasons of an irreversible nature.” The club thanked the former AC Milan standout for his “professionalism” that he displayed during his single season on the Canary Islands.

Las Palmas opens the Spanish league season on Friday at Valencia.

Man City has $23 million Evans bid shot down by WBA

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Could Jonny Evans be the latest player to cross Manchester’s red and blue divide, albeit with a stop in between?

Reports Wednesday say West Bromwich Albion has rejected a $23 million Manchester City bid for the Northern Irish center back.

[ MORE: UCL Wednesday wrap ]

$23 million? That’s like 40 percent of a Kyle Walker!

Evans, 29, is the Baggies captain and a key piece of the club’s aims to continue its long stay in the Premier League.

He joined Manchester United’s academy at age 16 and stayed at Old Trafford through 2015, taking loan opportunities at Royal Antwerp and Sunderland on the way.

At United, Evans won three Premier League titles and two League Cups, and also has a Championship win from one of his two stints at Sunderland.

The 61-times capped Belfast native would give City a key component for Premier League play along with a center back corps of Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, and John Stones. Eliaquim Mangala completes their veteran depth, and is certainly City’s weakest position.

Would West Brom sell at any reasonable price? The Baggies are not deep at center back, either — not too many clubs are — and will be in a boatload of trouble without Evans. And given the transfer market, finding a proper replacement at under $30 million is going to be difficult (Reread that sentence. What a summer).

It’s another argument for the transfer window closing before the start of the season.