It was sold to us as the competition for the top teams in Europe. The best of the best. Eight teams battling it out to claim the ultimate in European glory. This season however, it is more like seven teams and Atletico Madrid.
Diego Simeone’s side are currently third in La Liga, a feat that isn’t that difficult in a league that consists of Real, Barca and everyone else. They were labelled as the team who love to defend, even though they have conceded thirty-seven league goals, the most out of any team in the top eight in Spain.
Prior to Tuesday night’s match, we were warned what to expect. We were told they were likely to try and park the bus, just as they did for long stretches at Old Trafford in the last round. But at least on that occasion, the bus would sometimes move up-field as Atletico tried to make a game of it. Against United, they had eight shots, three on target and forced two corners. On Tuesday, they did nothing of the sort as they all of those sections contained a big fat zero.
It therefore shows character in this City side that they were able to finally break down the walls and the 5-5-0 formation that the visitors employed, as Kevin de Bruyne’s goal gave City a slender lead to take to Madrid, which will now no doubt force Atletico to make a game of it in the return leg.
With UEFA scrapping the away goals rule, Atletico went out of their way to turn European knockout football into a dull, lifeless and quite frankly boring affair, hoping for a 0-0 and then try and beat City in front of the partisan crowd.
In fairness, you can’t blame them. Against United, there was always a chance they would get something, but it is a different story these days when teams face the blue side of Manchester. Pep Guardiola’s men have once again been scoring for fun, even without a recognised number nine. Their ability to turn defence into attack has been well known for a few seasons, so Simeone’s side had to do something.
And it so nearly worked.
The blues had over 70% possession and attempted fifteen shots at goal, with only two that were on target, proving that the visitors plan was playing out exactly how Simeone had wanted it. That was until the 68th minute and the introduction of Gabriel Jesus, Jack Grealish and a certain Mr Phil Foden.
The visitors, like they had done throughout the match, had their entire team behind the ball as Foden collected a pass inside the last third. Evading three Atletico players, the youngster underlined his ability by slipping a perfect ball for de Bruyne to run onto, and the Belgian made no mistake with a low finish across the keeper and into the far corner.
City’s only other attempt on target was a de Bruyne free kick which stung the palms of the keeper, who was then alert enough to kick the rebound to safety with Rodri steaming in to capitalise.
The blues travel to Madrid in a week’s time to try and secure their second successive semi-final spot and a tie against either Chelsea or Real Madrid. And it should be a more open game. Atletico will now be forced to abandon their defensive plan and seek two goals that will put them through at the expense of the blues.
In doing so, they will leave themselves open for the City counter-attack, so hopefully, it won’t be another gut-wrenching, soul-destroying performance that left the faithful who attended thinking death was a better option.
Final score: Manchester City 1-0 Atletico Madrid