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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)

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.