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Manchester City knew they would have to be patient when Atletico Madrid visited the Etihad Stadium last Tuesday, and so it proved. The Spanish side successfully frustrated City in the first half, allowing them to dominate possession but restricting them to very few clear-cut chances. Atletico did not pose much of a threat on the counter-attack, but their well-organized defensive structure made life difficult for City, who are the favorites to win the Champions League this season.
Phil Foden’s introduction from the bench proved decisive. The England international brought greater urgency and thrust to the City side. He set up Kevin De Bruyne for what proved to be the only goal of the game, and Atletico struggled to get a handle on the slippery 21-year-old throughout his 22 minutes on the field. City could not find the second goal that would have put them in a commanding position, but Pep Guardiola’s side will take a lead to the Spanish capital this week.
A few days after that European success, City drew 2-2 with Liverpool at the Etihad to leave the Premier League title race in the hands of the defending champions. It was a magnificent game and one which showcased the fact that these two teams are the best in Europe at present. City will lock horns with the Reds in the last four of the FA Cup this weekend, but first they have a big game against Atletico to contest.
City have still not won the Champions League and there is a desperation within the club to finally get over the line in Europe. City will be fully focused on the task at hand when they head to Madrid on Wednesday.
Atletico have become a more attacking team in recent years, and Diego Simeone now has several quality options at his disposal up front: Joao Felix and Antoine Griezmann started in the first leg, with Angel Correa and Luis Suarez on the bench. Yet, as was always likely, the Colchoneros went back to basics at the Etihad.
Atletico’s formation at times resembled a 5-5-0. Griezmann and Felix routinely retreated into their own half of the field, sometimes dropping as deep as the penalty area. Atletico denied City space in central areas and ensured they were difficult to play through. Their efforts were almost exclusively defensive: Atletico did not take a single shot at the Etihad and they only seldom committed more than three or four players to an attack.
It might be surprising to learn that Simeone’s side rank in mid-table in La Liga for goals conceded this term – one of the main reasons why they are not in the title race. That is an aberration. Atletico usually have the best defensive record in Spain’s top flight, but they have struggled to keep opponents out in 2021/22.
There have, however, been more positive signs in that regard in recent weeks. Atletico will once again need to deliver a sound defensive display on Wednesday to have any chance of going through.
Atletico were clearly playing for a 0-0 draw in Manchester, but they will not be too discouraged by a 1-0 defeat. They are still very much in this tie, and their failure to score last week is not as significant as it would have been when the away goals rule was still in place.
It is obvious, though, that Atletico will not be able to play so cautiously on Wednesday. For starters, they need to score. It will also be hard to show so little attacking intent at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano. City will still control the ball for long periods, but Atletico’s fans will compel the team to show more purpose and intent on the break.
Simeone may instruct his side to make a fast start in the hope of canceling out the deficit early on. City should gradually take control, though, and the fact that Atletico will not be able to sit so deep could play into the English side’s hands.
There will almost certainly be more goals here than there were in the first leg, and City’s superior quality should again shine through. Back an away win and over 2.5 goals.
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|Atletico Madrid vs Manchester City Information|
|Teams||Atletico Madrid vs Manchester City|
|Location||Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain|
|Time||Wednesday, 13 April 2022, 15.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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