February is an exciting month for football fans. The top leagues are all reaching their business end, with the title races in England, Germany and Italy all looking particularly tasty. But most importantly, the Champions League returns and it’s time for the knockout round.
This is where the going gets tough, and this year, the second round has a bucketload of fixtures ready to whet the appetite. Manchester City and Bayern Munich have been made the early favourites by Bet365, whose welcome bonus allows customers to claim credit to place that wager.
Both those sides have comfortable looking tests ahead against FC Copenhagen and Lazio respectively, there is one tussle that stands out in particular. And – for us, at least – it’s one that may have slipped under the radar. Atletico Madrid vs Inter Milan.
Atleti’s European Exploits
To many, it is teams such as the aforementioned favourites, as well as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and perhaps Arsenal that grab the limelight. But Los Rojiblancos and the Nerazzuri have beaten all three of those teams over the last decade in one competition or another. And they both have plenty of European pedigree.
The side from the Spanish capital reached two Champions League finals in as many years back in 2014 and 2016. In the former of those years, they also stunned their more illustrious domestic rivals as they won La Liga for the first time in almost two decades.
In the showpiece finales however, they were downed both times, and on both occasions, it was at the hands of their cross-city rivals, Real Madrid. In fact, for four consecutive campaigns, they were eliminated by a Cristiano Ronaldo-powered Los Blancos.
In the last seven years, Atleti haven’t made it past the quarterfinals. But this term, a more creative, well-polished version of Antoine Griezmann is spearheading their attacks. He knows what it takes to get to the latter stages of major tournaments as demonstrated by reaching back-to-back World Cup finals with France, and his club team will be hoping he can transfer that experience into the Champions League.
Inter’s Recent Success
But while the Spaniards haven’t had much to shout about on Europe’s grandest stage in recent campaigns, their Italian counterparts certainly have. They stunned everybody as they marched all the way to the Champions League final last season, and they did something that Atletico wasn’t able to do in four consecutive seasons. They defeated their greatest rival to do so.
Last season, the Nerazzuri faced off against cross-city rivals AC Milan in a European semifinal Derby della Madonnina. And they handily defeated their adversaries, winning 3-0 on aggregate and punching their ticket to Istanbul.
Unfortunately, there, they were narrowly edged by the heavily favoured Manchester City, but not before they had given the Blues all they could handle. This year, Simone Inzaghi’s men are currently top of Serie A and into the latter stages of the Champions League once again.
Last season, they won the Coppa Italia as well as the Italian Super Cup. Two years earlier, they lifted the Scudetto for the first time in a decade. Who knows what success may just be around the corner?