Kevin De Bruyne takes one chance but late miss could be costly for Man City

Atlético Madrid also missed a number of chances in intriguing contest

Manchester City 1 Atlético Madrid 0

Kevin De Bruyne, on his 50th Champions League appearance in Manchester City colours, had been muted but made no mistake for a 70th-minute winner, his 11th in the competition for the club.

It means Pep Guardiola's side travel to Spain content yet wary as Atlético Madrid are the definition of a streetwise outfit who know when to punish, though João Félix, Antoine Griezmann and Marcos Llorente will all rue missed opportunities on Tuesday night. So, too, De Bruyne who, towards the end, missed a gaping goal much to his manager's dismay.

There is a serenity about Guardiola that has been evident since around this time last season. The latest illustration came in the pre-game “over-thinking” discourse that was delivered with a rascally twinkle yet came punctuated with a point he believes pertinent: that he is duty-bound to tinker tactics and personnel – the prevailing criticism aimed at him – when the competition reaches this stage due to the differing nature of the opponent.


So it was that Guardiola's selection and configuration was awaited for a first leg that might define the tie and should any moves made become questionable should City go out. Through this prism the omission of Phil Foden – who had started five of City's Champions League eight matches – caught the eye as, to a lesser degree, did Jack Grealish's exclusion.

For a task Diego Simeone rated as tougher than knocking out Manchester United in the previous round, the Atlético manager again fielded the same 3-5-2 as at Old Trafford.

The visitors fired a first salvo. Here João Félix twirled near halfway and flipped a pass behind Nathan Aké for Marcos Llorente to run at. The latter went close to overtaking Aké before the Dutchman did enough.

João Cancelo had been instructed to drift inside from right back and it was in this zone he drew a foul from Geoffrey Kondogbia. Moments later the Portuguese let go a 25-yard shot that was blocked and had Atlético scrambling in the area before Felipe cleared.

Any possession Atlético had was being thrown away much to the chagrin of Simeone who was conscious the commodity was precious. This was underlined after ceding the ball – a Cancelo cross for Ilkay Gündogan, then a Kevin De Bruyne effort, threatened Jan Oblak’s goal.

City had entered onslaught mode, Atlético had adopted a hanging-on stance. When Raheem Sterling was felled after a muscular run and Bernardo Silva, collecting the ball, suffered the same – inside the area up against Koke – the Portuguese bemoaned Istvan Kovacs's waving away of his penalty appeal.

Guardiola and Simeone – in near-identical coats – were each unhappy: the City boss perhaps for some unfathomable geometric miscalculation; his counterpart for the needless sloppiness on the ball, Llorente the latest culprit in an error that allowed De Bruyne to whip it in, Gündogan again going close.

Atlético are the kings of the counter so Guardiola was furious when Félix could break along the left before a flood of blue shirts engulfed him. A delightful Koke backflick that released Félix a little later was another warning from the Spanish champions.

A thrust and verve had entered the contest. Feints, touches, the finding of vital inches: all were being executed in slick, computer game-like fashion. It was the contest that was expected: City’s domination versus Atlético’s savvy, the home team enjoying 75.6 per cent possession as the closing phase was entered of a half performed in a crackling atmosphere.

The sight of Rodrigo hitting the ball into a red-and-white striped shirt from 30 yards was a compliment to the job done thus far by Simeone's men. And, too, when John Stones slapped a simple pass straight out. After De Bruyne went down in the area with Felipe in close attendance the spot-kick was, again, refused by the referee.

So, at the break it was level and nicely poised. Gündogan’s deflected shot suggested the pattern of City posing more questions would continue. Griezmann’s break from the resulting corner and 50-yard run until he sprayed the ball wildly away fitted the template too. Simeone drills his charges to pounce when the moment arrives. Yet they failed with another break when Llorente raced behind City but could find only Ederson – not Félix.

City went from ragged to De Bruyne sending Oblak skimming along the turf to his left to save a free-kick as Atlético’s wall – Félix the main perpetrator – parted badly. Next Sterling rolled a cross-shot over from the left but Silva, the false 9, nor any other team-mate could stab home. Griezmann’s last act was to be fouled by Silva as Simeone made a triple substitution – Koke and Llorente also departing as Ángel Correa, Rodrigo de Paul and Matheus Cunha entered.

Atlético had blunted City. The game was broken up. Even De Bruyne hoofed clear rather than employing the usual feathery touch.

Now came Guardiola's move: Grealish, Foden and Gabriel Jesus were introduced and it paid a dividend. The ball went from Rodri to Foden and he calmly fed it to De Bruyne who gave Oblak no chance.

When Correa smacked the ball into the face of a prone Grealish, Guardiola shoved the No 10 but escaped censure. Then, Sime Vrsaljko was booked for felling Grealish. Proceedings may be even spicier next Wednesday in the Wanda Metropolitano. – Guardian