1. Spirit, legacy, hope no substitute for quality
When Clarence Seedorf returned to Milan, Milanistas saw the move as a return to the qualities that had somehow been lost during Max Allegri’s rein. What exactly those qualities are was a little more nebulous and debatable, but the ultimate complaint was the same: Milan wasn’t playing as well; the results had diminished; and this wasn’t happening when Carlo Ancelotti veterans were dominating Milan’s XI.
Seedorf, one of those veterans, would surely ‘get i’t, and having avoided a titan like Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in Champions League, the seven-time European Champions still had a chance to do some damage in Europe. If Seedorf could come in and stabilize the team, Milan’s tradition of success could help carry them past the favored Atleti.
Against Atlético, that tradition meant nothing. The spirit that’s made the team synonymous with European success couldn’t be turned on by a mere change of coach. As their place in Italy suggests, Milan is a not a very good; at least, not by Champions League standards. At some point (some very early, basic point), legacy is just not enough.
2. Diego Costa is ready for your love
Two more Champions League goals from the Brazilian-cum-Spaniard give the Atlético striker 29 for the season, with seven of those goals coming in five Champions League games. He may not be in the same category as the big three (Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic), but his production puts him in the conversation at the next level. Maybe he’s not Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, or a healthy Radamel Falcao, but he’s in the same room.
But he plays for Atlético. He doesn’t have the same history of success. On the international level, he’s just found a new home. Costa career hasn’t provided the type of stability that endears himself to a consistent narrative.
With Atletico Madrid in the final eight, however, the likely starter for Spain this summer may finally be ready for your love. Like Robert Lewandowski last year with Dortmund, Costa has a chance to transcend the soccer intelligence and become a broader, more recognizable success.
Plus: He’s only 25 years old. That not only puts him in his soccer primal it also means there could be many more seasons like this to come.
3. Atlético dangerous, but as dangerous as before?
Stipulation No. 1: Any 5-1 win in the knockout rounds of UEFA Champions League is impressive. Stipulation No. 2: Milan are not very good (see, above).
In that sense, we may not have learned much about Atlético Madrid during the Round of 16. If anything, the goal they gave up today at the Vicente Calderón was the most telling part of the matchup. While that’s not an uncommon goal for teams to concede, it’s the type of score Atlético wasn’t allowing when they were playing at their best.
Pressure in midfield, better reactions to the through ball, tighter marketing at the far post – Atleti could have done something. In January, all those somethings were getting done.
Now, they’re still trying to get back to that level. It’s the difference between a team that can pull a quarterfinal upset and one the rest of the field wouldn’t mind facing in the next round.