Milan happy for Atletico Madrid, not Real
AC Milan are looking forward to a trip to Madrid next March, pleased not to be paying the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu a visit this time.
After being drawn against Real Madrid's city rivals Atletico, the Rossoneri director of sport Umberto Gandini said he felt his club's last-16 tie could have been much tougher.
"There was a lot worse in the draw so maybe we will be welcomed back to Milanello," he told Italy's Sky Sport. "We're delighted to be going back to Madrid, this time to face a different side."
The two clubs have never met in European club competition before, but a glance at the current Primera Division standings tells Milan all they need to know about the strength of their opponents. Atletico trail Barcelona only on goals scored at the top of the table, both sides five points clear of Real.
"They're very tough opponents with a very good coach and they seem to find it so easy to score," added Gandini. "It's going to be something new, which is what we're looking forward to. We've not played them for a long time."
Milan host the Colchoneros in the first leg before travelling to the Estadio Vicente Calderon, and Gandini hopes his team will have picked up their form by then. The Rossoneri are currently 25 points adrift of Serie A leaders Juventus heading into Monday night's clash with second-placed Roma.
"I'm not sure how Milan will be in two months' time, but we don't know how Atletico will be either, even if they're having a great season and will be very tough opponents," said Gandini. "I hope we can grow in the games between now and then. Milan's aim is to do the best we can in all competitions we are in. Our aim is always to go through, with Atletico or with any other side."
Atletico director Clemente Villaverde stuck to the humble but determined line always put forward by Colchoneros coach Diego Simeone when reacting to their side’s draw.
Atletico have not reached the quarterfinal stage of the competition since 1996–97, but look real challengers for the trophy having breezed through their group with five wins and a draw from six games. They are also currently joint-top of La Liga after a superb opening five months of the season.
Meanwhile Milan have great European pedigree but just about made the last 16 after a nervy goalless draw at home to Ajax in their final group game, and are currently a whopping 23 points off the pace in Serie A.
Such recent history might make Atletico strong favourites to progress to the quarter-finals, but Villaverde told Canal Plus that his side was delighted to have reached this stage of the competition.
"First we are very happy to be in the draw, and to be making another step for a club which keeps growing," he said. "We are satisfied to get Milan, as we would have been with any other team. We are not talking about any team, Milan is a great club, with such an important history, who will be dangerous in any competition."
The Colchoneros executive did however let slip his belief that Simeone’s side -- with Diego Costa, David Villa, Arda Turan, Koke and company -- had the armoury to rattle any rival.
"We have our value too -- we must try to be better than them over the two legs and go through," Villaverde said. "We respect all teams, but we also have our potential and our weapons to use against any opponent."