David Villa has been unable to rediscover his consistency since he broke his leg in late 2011, but Spain’s record scorer may still be crucial to Atletico Madrid’s hopes of Champions League success this season.
The 32-year-old Asturian, who has played second fiddle to Brazil-born Atletico forward Diego Costa for most of the season, showed with a double in a La Liga tie with RC Celta de Vigo on Saturday that he still has the positional sense and predatory instinct that saw him score 56 goals in 95 appearances for the world and European champions.
Villa was substituting the suspended Costa at Celta and is a potentially lethal backup weapon in coach Diego Simeone’s arsenal as Atletico seek a place in the last eight of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time since 1997 when they play AC Milan at home today.
Los Colchoneros lead 1-0 from last month’s first leg at the San Siro, when Costa headed the only goal seven minutes from time, and are firm favorites to advance to the quarters since they have won 15 of their past 16 European home games.
With Costa available again, Villa may not feature at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, but he has experience scoring against the seven-time European champions and any coach would be delighted to have him as a reserve.
Villa netted the third goal in Milan’s 4-0 last-16, second-leg defeat at Barcelona last season, when the Catalan side overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit, and also found the net in a 2-2 group-stage draw in the 2011-2012 season.
“He thrives on goals, he is a specialist,” Simeone told a news conference after the win in Vigo. “He is an extremely important player for us, whom we need for his goals and his experience.”
While Atletico are riding high in La Liga and mounting a challenge in Europe, Milan come into the match having suffered their first consecutive defeats in Serie A this season.
Clarence Seedorf was brought in to replace the sacked Massimiliano Allegri in January, but the former Milan, Real Madrid and Netherlands midfielder has yet to revive the club’s fortunes and they are mired in the middle of the table and in serious danger of missing out on a European qualification berth.
They last made the Champions League quarters two years ago and are trying to avoid a hat-trick of exits on Spanish soil following defeats to Barcelona in the last eight in 2011-2012 and the last-16 last season.
However, Seedorf was given a vote of confidence by Milan’s Colombia international Cristian Zapata, who said on Sunday that the new coach was settling in well and having a “positive impact.”