Milan host Atletico Madrid at the San Siro in the Champions League on Wednesday knowing that Italian representation in the competition’s quarter-finals rests solely in their hands. The signs are not looking good for Milan. Sitting ninth in Serie A, Milan are up against an Atletico side that have developed into La Liga title contenders and are now dark horses for European glory as well.
One area in which the tie could be decided comes in the form of the two sides' leading strikers: Mario Balotelli and Diego Costa. Atletico’s Costa has been experiencing the season of his life so far this campaign, with 21 league goals and a further four in Europe, whilst the enigmatic Balotelli has been demonstrating patchy form befitting of the Milan side as a whole.
With the comparison between the two men likely to be key in settling the tie, Squawka take a look at the statistics behind this striking duel.
Costa has netted double the number of goals that Balotelli has managed in this season’s Champions League, despite Balotelli playing over twice as many minutes, scoring four goals to the Italian’s two.
His four-goal haul from three appearances means that Costa has averaged almost two goals per 90 minutes played in this season’s competition, with Balotelli languishing behind on just 0.42 goals per 90 minutes of action.
The Brazil-born striker also averages almost twice as many shots per 90 minutes on the pitch, perhaps going some way to explain his greater goals-per-game record. However, the stats don’t tell the complete story, and are not quite as damning upon Balotelli as they appear.
It is important to note that Costa is playing for a side that average over a goal a game more than Milan and take almost six shots per game more than their Italian opponents. While Atletico eased into the last 16 by topping their group, Milan had to rely on a final match-day stalemate with Ajax to sneak through as runners-up of Group H.
Despite this, even when accounting for their respective sides, Costa comes out based upon the group stages. He has an impressive 33.3 percent conversion rate during the competition, far higher than Balotelli’s 16.7 percent conversion.
As well as proving more clinical, Costa also created chances for teammates more frequently than Balotelli. He created three chances, to Balotelli’s four, meaning that he created around 1.4 chances per 90 minutes on the pitch—again, higher than the Milan forward’s total of 0.83.
However, Balotelli can once again apportion some of the gap to his teammates. His creative record stands up when compared to his Milan teammates, with just one creating more than him during the group stages. Costa, on the other hand, was eighth amongst Atletico players for chances created, six of whom created more than Milan’s top creator’s five-chance tally during the group stages.
Costa’s hot streak hasn’t just extended to the Champions League this season. He has had the season of his life in La Liga, scoring 21 goals in 24 appearances for Atletico. Balotelli has scored 10 Serie A goals this season, albeit in six fewer games than Costa.
These totals mean that Costa has averaged almost a goal every 90 minutes domestically this season, while Balotelli has 0.6 in the same period. However Costa’s total, coming in a season in which he is playing out of his skin, is not insurmountable for Balotelli, who had a similarly hot streak last season. During his 13 games in Serie A last year, Balotelli showed that he can match Costa’s strike rate this season with an average of 0.94 goals per 90 minutes.
Balotelli has also proven to be more valuable to Milan’s play as a whole this season, although Costa’s contribution to Atletico should not be downplayed. While he has created chances less frequently than Costa domestically this season, Balotelli has provided more frequent assists.
Surprisingly, given the respective goal ratios, Balotelli has also scored a higher Squawka Performance Score, suggesting that his all-round contribution has been slightly better.
As well as his higher assist numbers, Balotelli also outscores Costa in other areas. He has won 41 percent of his headed duels this season, to Costa’s 22 percent, and has completed more take-ons (44 to 37) at a better success rate (54 percent to 33 percent.)
Balotelli has also taken more shots on goal domestically, although Costa has proven to be far more clinical. Costa has scored double the number of goals that Balotelli has, but from fewer shots on goal. Sixty percent of Costa’s shots have been on target this season, beating Balotelli’s 51 percent, whilst he has a domestic conversion rate of 31 percent to Balotelli’s 12.5 percent.
Despite this, Balotelli is no less important to Milan’s play than Costa is to Atletico’s. While Costa has scored a staggering 36 percent of Atletico’s La Liga goals this season, Balotelli has 32 percent of Milan’s goals, reflecting the fact that he plays for a side that average almost one goal per game fewer than Atletico.
While Balotelli has scored fewer goals than Costa, he has also played fewer games. Discounting goals scored in fixtures that Balotelli missed, the Italian has scored 41 percent of Milan’s domestic goals in games in which he has featured.
More in the Tank For Balotelli?
As the domestic comparison matrix earlier in the article shows, Balotelli’s form has slipped this season. He scored 12 goals last season in just 13 appearances, suggesting that there is more to come from the mercurial 23-year-old.
While Costa has a better goal-scoring record than Balotelli this season, both domestically and in Europe, his blistering La Liga form is still short of Balotelli’s Serie A form last season.
On current form, Costa edges out Balotelli over the season, although there is more to the story than their respective goal records suggest. Atletico start the tie as firm favourites against a Milan side that is a shadow of Milan teams of the past.
If the enigma that is Mario Balotelli can produce the kind of form that he showed last season, then he could steal the show once again and help Milan to a quarter-final place that on league form the club have little claim to.