By Iain Rogers
MADRID, March 10 (Reuters) - David Villa has been unable to rediscover his consistency since he broke his leg in late 2011 but Spain's record scorer could 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 Atletico's Brazil-born forward Diego Costa for most of the season, showed with a La Liga double at Celta Vigo on Saturday he still has the positional sense and predatory instinct that helped him score 56 goals in 95 appearances for the world and European champions.
Villa was filling in for the suspended Costa at Celta and represents a potentially lethal backup weapon in coach Diego Simeone's armoury as Atletico seek a place in the last eight of Europe's elite club competition for the first time since 1997 at home to AC Milan on Tuesday.
The Spanish capital's second club 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 favourites to advance to the quarter-finals given that they have won 15 of their last 16 European home games.
With Costa available again, Villa may not feature at the Calderon but he has experience of scoring against the seven-times European champions and any coach would be delighted to have him in 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 2011-12 season.
"He thrives on goals, he is a specialist," Simeone told a news conference after the win in Vigo.
"He has a precision and conviction that have marked out his career," added the former Argentina midfielder, who was playing for Atletico the last time they reached the Champions League quarter-finals 17 years ago.
"He is an extremely important player for us, whom we need for his goals and his experience.
"He is one of the few players we have who is used to battling for the big prizes week in week out."
While Atletico are riding high in La Liga and mounting a genuine 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 mid-table and in serious danger of missing out on a European qualification berth.
They last made the Champions League quarter-finals 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 2011-12 and the last 16 last season.
Seedorf was given a vote of confidence by Milan's Colombia international Cristian Zapata on Sunday, who said the new coach was settling in well and having a "positive impact".
"He has very clear ideas," Zapata, who had a stint with Atletico's La Liga rivals Villarreal, said on UEFA.com.
"He demonstrates the moves and runs he wants very well. He is a very well-organised person and he is a winner.
"His philosophy is that the team has to always go out onto the pitch and be competitive.
"The team has to be aggressive and push up, especially in defence. He doesn't like the defence to stay too deep.
"I think that is something positive. I think that gives you the mentality to go out there and look for a good result from the very start of the match." (Editing by Rex Gowar)
- Sports & Recreation
- Atletico Madrid
- David Villa
- Champions League
- La Liga
- Diego Costa