Manchester City beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday night thanks to Kevin De Bruyne.
Pep Guardiola’s side struggled to break through the strong Atletico defence for extended periods of the match, but their best chance fell to the right person as De Bruyne continued his rich vein of form. The Belgium international was slipped through by Phil Foden and fired past Jan Oblak in goal.
Atletico’s game plan revolved around counter-attacking and they did look like they were going to create a few clear-cut chances, but they fizzled out into nothing due to the aggressive pressing of City when out of position. It was a performance that Guardiola will have been proud of.
City will be pleased that they were able to get past Atletico injury-free with their crunch match against Liverpool this weekend in the Premier League. But the Champions League remains a top target at the Etihad Stadium and Daily Express Sport considers five things we learned in the first-leg of the tie.
City’s transfer plans justified
Rumours have circulated that City will be in the market for a left-back in the summer transfer window, and Tuesday’s performance evidenced why Guardiola could be willing to splash the cash on one. Nathan Ake did well in the role against Atletico, but his skillset leaves a lot to be desired out wide.
The Netherlands international effectively dealt with the barraging runs of Marcos Llorente, but in comparison to Joao Cancelo on the right, he offered very little offensively in a game that City dominated. Ake was reluctant to drive forward and cause overloads on the left with Raheem Sterling, looking far more content in receiving the ball deep and moving it on.
Of course, comparing a makeshift fullback to one of the best right-backs in the world is somewhat unfair, but it highlighted just how lethal City would be with two top talents on either flank. Ake is certainly great cover for the centre backs, but it is easy to see why Guardiola may be demanding a summer spending spree.
Sticking to the gameplans
Guardiola and Diego Simeone are two of the most animated, exciting managers in world football. The pair both have separate ideas on how football should be played and the most effective way to get results, which made for quite an underwhelming Champions League quarterfinal tie.
Up against top sides, it is no secret that Simeone is keen for his team to sit back, defend and hit the opposition on the counterattack if they can gain possession in dangerous areas. But if not, the Argentine would rather his players take the no-nonsense approach and get rid of the ball rather than trying to build an attack in an unlikely area.
By contrast, Guardiola’s system is built on high tempo, possession-heavy football, and they struggled to break down the Atletico defence. They tried and tried again to switch the play and craft openings by playing expansive football but
Phil Foden-shaped hole in City’s attack
Guardiola opted for a front line of Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva against Atletico, but the trio’s linkup lacked pace and energy. Individually, each player did well, but there was a gaping hole in City’s attack that Phil Foden would usually have filled.
The Englishman didn’t enter the fray until the 68th minute, but it took him under three minutes to show why he should have started. The midfielder’s first influence on the game was his assist for De Bruyne’s goal, and from that point onwards City looked a more dangerous outfit.
Without him, the passing was slow and lacked intent when in and around the Atletico penalty area, very rarely were players racing in behind or looking for a one-two. But with Foden on the pitch the Etihad Stadium outfit moved the ball with more pace and were creating openings out wide and down the middle.
If City are to get a result against Liverpool at the weekend in the title-deciding clash then Guardiola will be hoping that the 21-year-old can emulate his excellent performance from Tuesday night. He made the difference for City against Atletico and highlighted why he should be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Defensive football amplified
Despite having several top forwards, Atletico deployed the largely unseen 5-5-0 formation for most of Tuesday night’s game. With Felix on the left and Antoine Griezmann dropping into midfield, there was no focal point to Simeone’s team – which was purely tactical.
With the game plan being solely to counterattack City when they misplace one of their passes, the manager was keen to have an extra body behind the ball so that they could go man to man with their Premier League opposition instead. Although they lost the game, the closing stages of the match were damage limitation for the La Liga outfit and one would assume that Simeone will be pleased with his teams performance overall.
With a one-goal deficit to overturn, Atletico will certainly be more attacking-minded in the second leg of this tie in Spain. Players like Felix and Angel Correa will be hoping that with a change in tactics, they will be able to leave their mark on the tie.