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Tuesday February 18, 2014 MYT 10:17:01 AM
Tuesday February 18, 2014 MYT 10:17:10 AM
by iain rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - Clarence Seedorf will need to tap into all the experience he gained as the only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs if his AC Milan side are to get past Atletico Madrid into the quarter-finals.
Milan host the Spanish club, who are riding high in La Liga, for their last 16, first leg on Wednesday, when Seedorf will make his coaching debut in Europe's elite club competition after taking over last month from Massimiliano Allegri.
The 37-year-old former Netherlands midfielder won the Champions League once with Ajax Amsterdam and once with Real Madrid before a decade playing at Milan yielded two more continental titles.
However, the seven-times European champions have fallen on hard times and sit ninth in Serie A, 31 points behind leaders Juventus, and Seedorf has taken on the task of lifting them out of their slump and reviving past glories.
"The match against Atletico will be a great chance to take a big step forward," Seedorf said after Milan won 1-0 at home to Bologna on Friday.
"We'll play our game as Milan always have something extra in the Champions League," he added.
"I'm confident that the stadium will be full as it was in the old days with a great atmosphere. The fans and the stadium will give the players what they need."
Seedorf will be going head to head with a man he knows well from his playing days, Atletico's Argentine coach Diego Simeone, who had stints at Italian clubs including Inter Milan and Lazio and Spanish sides Atletico and Sevilla.
Simeone, 43, has transformed the Madrid side into genuine contenders in Spain and Europe since taking over at the end of 2011 and they are joint top of La Liga with heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid.
They were one of only three teams undefeated in the Champions League group stage, winning five and drawing one, and are unbeaten in their last four away games in Europe.
"Atletico seem like an Italian or Argentine team since Simeone arrived, they are extremely tough," Demetrio Albertini, a former Milan and Italy midfielder who also had a brief loan spell at Atletico, said in an interview with Spanish sports daily As published on Monday.
"Above all they are a balanced team and the coach has imposed a very well defined style and character," he added.
"Atletico have an advantage, they are the favourites as their position in the (Spanish) league suggests.
"But let's not forget one thing. The Champions League is Milan's home. They have won seven European titles and the history is there."
Seedorf will need time to fix what has been ailing Milan in recent seasons but has already said he wants his players to exert more control.
"You need time to create your style of play and a bit of luck too," he said on Friday.
"It's in the club's DNA to have control of the game. If you're in control, the adversary can do less damage.
"I ask the players to stick together and to show fighting spirit to get out of the difficult situation that we find ourselves in."
Atletico have stumbled in recent weeks, suffering a surprise defeat at Almeria in La Liga and being eliminated from the King's Cup by city rivals Real.
They returned to winning ways at the weekend with a 3-0 league win at home to Real Valladolid.
Simeone bolstered his squad with last month's signing of Brazilian playmaker Diego and believes he has enough depth to compete successfully on two fronts.
"We have a very competitive team now," he said after the Valladolid game.
"When I felt we had to keep the ball I brought him (Diego)on and things became easier and the game was basically over.
"We won in two ways today: playing more directly at the start and then closing the game down with more possession."
The return leg is at Atletico's Calderon stadium on March 11.
(Editing by Clare Lovell)
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