Manchester City and Atletico Madrid played out an enthralling 3-3 draw in the Champions League group stage. Here is everything you need to know about what happened at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Wednesday night.
When Man City met Atletico, Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone did what they do best. The two teams played a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal matchup. Read more in detail here: man city coach.
During Manchester City’s press conference on Monday, Pep Guardiola snarled at two long-held clichés ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League first-leg quarterfinal encounter with Atletico Madrid. To begin with, he became caustic when the old “The charge of “overthinking in important games” was leveled at him: “In the Champions League, I always overthink… I’m constantly coming up with new strategies and concepts, and you’ll see one tomorrow… we’ll play with 12 guys.”
When questioned about another repetitive issue, he grew contemptuous when asked about the stylistic differences between himself and Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid manager, whose teams are stereotyped as defensive, unscrupulous, and on the edge of sports ethics.
“There is a misperception about the way [Simeone] plays that is incorrect,” he remarked. “It’s more obnoxious than most people think… I’m not going to say anything about this pointless argument. The goal for everyone is to win the game. They are correct if they win. We are correct if we win.”
Of course, Guardiola is accurate on both counts. The accusation of “overthinking” isn’t without merit; his critics will point to his decisions to drop Yaya Toure against Monaco in 2016-17, deploy Aymeric Laporte at left-back against Liverpool in 2017-18, leave out Kevin De Bruyne against Spurs in 2018-19, switch to a back three with two holding midfielders against Lyon in 2019-20, and even go without a defensive midfielder in last year’s final against Chelsea — but it’s important to He doesn’t do it for the sake of vanity; he does it to get an advantage, frequently against inferior opponents who have spent the lead up to the game researching every aspect of City and how to counter them.
We don’t accuse him of overthinking when it works, like changing Oleksandr Zinchenko into a left-back, converting Bernardo Silva from a winger to a midfielder (and occasionally even a striker), or proving to the world that he can win the Premier League without a “conventional” center-forward.
Atletico’s portrayal as simply defensive, grind-it-out, win-ugly-by-any-means-necessary is also becoming a little old. Anyone who has followed LaLiga in the last year or so has seen Simeone attempt to wean Atleti away from their “Cholista” heritage in favor of a more aggressive, attacking style of play. He’s tinkered and tried to find the proper balance; it hasn’t always succeeded, and they’ve gone back to type at times, but according to StatsBomb statistics, they’re in the top five in terms of shots and non-penalty xG, and their disciplinary record is in the middle of the pack.
As you’d expect from a squad that has Joao Felix up front, the days of a Diego Godin sneer, a Diego Costa elbow, and a Raul Garcia header are long gone.
But here’s the thing with cliches: they often have more than a grain of truth in them. At Tuesday night’s game at the Etihad, two managers lived up to their stereotypes, acting as though they were professional wrestlers desperate to conform to an understandable kayfabe.
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Is Guardiola overthinking things? It’s not so much that, with Joao Cancelo having to play on the right side owing to Kyle Walker’s suspension, he chose Nathan Ake, a center-back by trade, over Zinchenko, City’s first option in recent seasons, at left-back. That might have been due to the fact that Zinchenko, who was on the bench, hadn’t started a game in about a month and, naturally, was distraught by the events in his own Ukraine.
It was more of a case of benching Phil Foden, putting Bernardo Silva up forward, and putting Ilkay Gundogan in midfield. Not what you’d expect at home from a team like Atletico Madrid, who sit deep and give you possession. But it was in how the game unfolded and each manager lived up to the stereotype that the pattern was followed meticulously and the clichés were proved convincingly.
In Tuesday night’s Champions League match, Simeone and Guardiola accomplished exactly what we expected them to do. Getty Images/Marc Atkins
Simeone’s team used a 5-3-2 configuration with five defenders, three holding midfielders, and two counterattacking forwards who served as auxiliary fullbacks for most of the game. Throughout the game, they failed to make a single effort at goal. Guardiola’s team had 71 percent possession, and although they had 15 shots, the majority were speculative hit-and-hopes, with just two on target, requiring only one stop from Jan Oblak. It wasn’t a particularly nasty encounter, but Atleti looked to want to live up to their “comic villain” reputation right before the end: Rodrigo De Paul and Matheus Cunha wrestled with Ederson, while Sime Vrsaljko smashed a ball off a prone Jack Grealish and fondled his headband afterwards.
All of this is a little ironic, but not at all surprising.
Teams use their strengths to their advantage. City’s strengths include passing, mobility, and rapidly regaining possession of the ball after a loss (something they didn’t do much before since they seldom lost the ball). Despite their desire to become more diverse, Atletico’s strength lies in their defense and structure. Both were very good at what they did, and for the most of the game, it was immovable object vs. unstoppable force. Or, as most had expected, offensive versus. defense.
When this occurs, there are three options for breaking the tie: a defensive blunder, a refereeing gaffe, or an unexpected individual brilliance. In the end, it was the latter who won the game, due to Phil Foden, who came in as a substitute and provided De Bruyne with the assist.
It’s a knockout game. Teams are expected to play to their strengths, which Simeone and Guardiola did. And what you get when they choose diametrically opposite game plans and are (largely) faultless is a stalemate resolved in the blink of an eye.
It’s okay to be precisely who people believe you are on sometimes. It’s okay to be yourself on sometimes.
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