Atlético Madrid 0 Manchester City 0 (Man City win 1-0 on agg)
It was fraught, it was suffocating, it was full-blooded – entirely as billed. And for Manchester City, it came down not to whether they could add to their first-leg lead in this Champions League quarter-final but whether they could hold on.
It is difficult to remember Pep Guardiola’s swashbucklers being pinned inside their own half for so long but that was precisely what happened for the entirety of the second period. They had imposed themselves in the first half but it was a different story after the interval, Atlético Madrid – urged on by a noisy and partisan crowd – choking them, forced them back, asking uncomfortable questions.
Could Atlético make the breakthrough? The answer was no. Despite a few heart-in-mouth moments, City kept the back door shut and it seemed entirely in keeping with the volcanic currents that the tie ended in a bench-emptying melee after Felipe, already booked in the first half, went into Phil Foden and kicked him again.
Felipe would eventually be sent off, after the warring factions were prised apart, but all City cared about was the result. Ilkay Gündogan almost nicked it for them at the very end. City’s Champions League dream remains alive.
The prize was a semi-final meeting with Real Madrid, the Spanish league leaders having advanced 24 hours previously after what was an epic against Chelsea across town. It had to be said that the expectation of another classic was low at kick-off time, mainly because of what had happened in the first leg – when Atlético did not muster a shot – and also how Diego Simeone had said that he would not alter his approach. Simeone's idea was simply to be tighter, quicker, more precise, better.
Guardiola had to find the correct balance. It has been a difficult season for Atlético, their league title defence long since over – they sit fourth in the table, one point clear of Real Betis in fifth – but they continue to know their way around this competition. It was a sixth quarter-final appearance in nine seasons for them. Guardiola’s watchword had been focus.
The atmosphere pulsed, the stadium packed and noisy, shrill whistles for every City spell of possession. It had been the same when the visiting players took the knee before kick-off, which was jarring.
Atlético brought the hustle at the outset and the key for City was always going to be whether they could remain composed on the ball and play their way out of trouble. When Kyle Walker, under pressure early on, sent a loose ball into touch and the crowd howled, Guardiola applauded like a maniac, hands high above his head. He wanted his team to enjoy having possession; not to be intimidated.
The first half was measured in one-on-one duels, the first flashpoint coming when Felipe jumped into the back of Foden as they contested an aerial battle, the centre half cleaning out his opponent with a ferocious upper-body barge.
Foden lay motionless for a worrying period before rising after treatment, bloodied and bandaged. Remarkably, Felipe avoided a booking, although that soon changed when he went through the back of Kevin De Bruyne. Atlético wanted to leave a few calling cards. For City, it was a test of nerve.
City got on to the front foot as the half wore on, Atlético’s initial surge having ebbed. Guardiola’s players began to work them around, showing their authority, and the thought occurred that it stood to be a test of the home team’s stamina.
The visitors had gone close early on from a corner, John Stones making a firm headed connection but failing to keep the attempt down. They created the big chance of the half in the 30th minute, Riyad Mahrez sparking it with a beautiful pass inside the full back for the advancing Walker. Mahrez was in the mood, all easy balance and dancing feet.
Walker crossed and, when Foden laid off from beyond the far post, Gündogan had the close-range shooting opportunity. He hit the post and his header on the rebound was blocked by Felipe. At least Atlético got a shot away before the interval, although it was only one and Geoffrey Kondogbia’s 35th-minute deflected effort from distance was entirely routine for Ederson.
The needle never seemed far from the surface, Simeone demanding a yellow card for Stones – and not getting one – after the defender hauled back João Félix, whose menace was obvious. But the equation for City remained the same in the second half. Remain calm and assertive, and do not make any mistakes.
Atlético stepped higher upon the restart, bringing the aggression once more and they had flickers in front of goal, which the home crowd were ultra quick to get behind. Renan Lodi's cross was just too far in front of Félix, the striker headed over from a Marcos Llorente centre and Antoine Griezmann was narrowly off target from the edge of the area.
The tide had turned, even the commanding Rodri getting robbed in possession, and City struggled to get up the pitch. De Bruyne appeared to be limping and Guardiola replaced him with Raheem Sterling, the hope being that he could get something to stick up front.
Atlético pressed on, City happy to preserve what they had, and it felt like a risky game. Atlético had them where they wanted them. Could they find a way through? The substitute, Rodrigo De Paul, curled just wide, while another replacement, Matheus Cunha, saw a shot blocked by Stones. – Guardian