Champions League: Manchester City face tough task in Madrid
Manchester City have a slender lead from the first leg of their Champions League quarter final after Kevin De Bruyne’s 70th minute goal earned them a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Etihad on Tuesday.
It was a result City had to eke out against an Atletico side who had clearly travelled to England with the aim of simply denying Pep Guardiola’s side opportunities and who failed to produce a single shot on target.
Diego Simeone’s outfit had frustrated City throughout the first half with their deep lying defending and reliance on only the occasional counter to threaten the hosts.
City rotated the ball with their usual expertise and made it difficult for Atletico to push out from their deep defensive formation, while never over-committing themselves.
But the Premier League champions were unable to turn their total dominance of possession into clear chances with Aymeric Laporte having one of the best opportunities after the break, but the defender’s header from a corner was off target.
Atletico’s rare breaks served as a reminder to City that they had to keep some discipline, although when the Spaniards did fashion an opening Marcos Llorente failed to test Ederson.
City kept their shape and moved the ball well but it took the introduction of substitute Phil Foden for the home side to find the missing ingredient.
Foden, who came on with Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus, drew three defenders towards him before splitting the Spanish rearguard with a perfectly weighted pass to De Bruyne who slotted past goalkeeper Jan Oblak with a side-foot finish.
De Bruyne then had space for another attempt on goal, which was well blocked by defender Stefan Savic’s outstretched foot.
De Bruyne said it had been difficult to break down a team playing with such numbers behind the ball. “It’s very hard. They played with almost five at the back and with five in midfield. I recommend anyone that says anything ... that they try playing against that on the training ground.
“We have to stay composed and don’t try to get into their action. It is the way they play. One nil is one nil. I expect similar over there. If the game is tight they will have to attack a little bit more,” added the Belgian.
Advice from Pep
Guardiola called on his players to control their emotions in the return leg next week. The game had several flashpoints, including an incident in which a prone Grealish was struck in the head from close range by a clearance from Angel Correa.
“We have to control our emotions and do what we have to do,” Guardiola told reporters after Tuesday’s game. “There will be a referee there and we have to play our game. (Atletico) have faced this kind of knockout stages many times and it will be a good test for us with our maturity in this game.
“Jack reacted really well and stayed focused on what we needed to do.”
The Spaniard added that City would not simply look to defend their 1-0 advantage in Madrid and would be looking to kill off the tie. Atletico coach Diego Simeone was happy with his side’s defending but said they must get a bigger share of possession.
Before the second leg at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid next Wednesday, City have a crucial clash at home to Premier League title rivals Liverpool on Sunday.