Milan out of alibis: Atalanta match more crucial than Newcastle. Better cup quarters than thirds

AC Milan are gearing up for two crucial matches this week, an away game against Atalanta on Saturday followed by a mid-week clash with Newcastle. AC Milan’s future hangs in the balance as we approach the spring of 2024, with this week set to determine if the team remains in Europe and which subsequent competition they’ll participate in.

As Juventus and Napoli square off against each other, it provides the perfect opportunity for the Milan side led by Davide Calabria to make strides in their league standing. Despite a much-needed victory against Frosinone last week, the task at hand won’t be easy, with Atalanta displaying formidable form despite a shock defeat against Torino. A win in Bergamo carries significant weight, not only in points but also morale, ahead of their journey to Newcastle. A draw may be seen as satisfactory, whereas a loss would inevitably bring underlying issues, including injury woes, to the forefront.

No matter the outcome, the result against Atalanta is interlinked with the subsequent Newcastle game, given the difficulty of progressing to the Champions League Round of 16, even with a victory on English soil. Consequently, the league match becomes the priority. Sunday onwards, attention will shift solely to the Champions League aspirations.

Although club officials may not admit it, potentially finishing third in the group stage, slipping into the Europa League, would be less welcome than a fourth-place finish. This is due to the less lucrative prospect of Europa League, paired with the logistical difficulty of playing on Thursday evenings followed by Sunday league matches, and low chances of clinicking the cup – a feat no Italian Club has achieved since Parma at the end of the previous century. Exiting all European competition is not seen as ideal due to the lost prestige, technical and economic benefits, but it may provide more time and energy for domestic competitions.

There is also the case of the Pioli-led Milan winning the Scudetto two years back after an early exit from the Champions League. If the team were to leave Europe, focus would more than likely shift entirely to the domestic league, where a fourth-place finish wouldn’t be sufficient, considering both Milan and Juventus would have the unexpected “advantage” of not playing in cup games.

Considering these factors, the Atalanta game holds substantial value for both the present and future of Milan. After losing against Inter and Juventus, while squandering a two-goal lead against Napoli, AC Milan can afford no further slips if they hope to orchestrate a comeback reminiscent of two years ago. Regardless of high-profile absences, such as Ibrahimovic and Kessie, the great Milan wisdom says, “The pitch will always welcome Milan”. The world watches as the club seeks to master this critical period – as excuses have run their course.

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