Atletico Madrid and Manchester City played out a goalless, albeit exciting, draw in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash on Wednesday night (13 April).
Courtesy of the Premier League champions’ narrow 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium last Tuesday (5 April), they progressed to the Champions League semi-finals, leaving Atletico in agony.
Pep Guardiola’s team will take on 13-time European champions Real Madrid in the home and away semi-final fixtures on April 26 and 4 May, respectively.
Here are five talking points from last night’s goalless stalemate at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid:
#5 Overcautious approach in the first half leads to Atletico Madrid’s downfall
In last week’s first leg defeat at the Etihad Stadium, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone opted for a five-man backline. On paper, Renan Lodi and Sime Vrsaljko started as wing-backs, but they rarely took the fight to Manchester City.
Atletico rarely made inroads into the visitors’ box and were more comfortable sitting deep and blocking City’s attempts. Playing at home, Simeone’s decision to instruct his side to sit back, especially when they had a one-goal deficit to overturn, came as a surprise.
Had the Spanish champions opted to play with more confidence from the beginning, they might have had a better chance against the English champions. They had just the one attempt on goal in the first half compared to 13 in the second.
#4 Atletico Madrid made City sweat with attacking substitutions
Following a cautious first half and a calculative opening 25 minutes of the second 45, Simeone chose to try his luck with some attacking substitutes.
In the 69th minute, Yannick Carrasco came on for an underperforming Antoine Griezmann, while Rodrigo De Paul replaced Koke. A minute later, Angel Correa took Renan Lodi’s place. The three substitutes added a dash of energy to the field, something City were not prepared for.
A minute after coming on, De Paul narrowly missed out on a goalscoring opportunity with his right-footed curler drifting just wide of the Manchester City goal. Seven minutes later, he attempted a volley, which also went wide of the right post.
Simeone then introduced Luis Suarez and Matheus Cunha in place of Thomas Lemar and Joao Felix, respectively, in the 82nd minute to put even more pressure on City.
In the 86th minute, John Stones made a crucial block to deny Cunha from six yards. Unfortunately, a melee ensued soon after, keeping the home team from using their momentum.
#3 Felipe receives marching orders as Atletico lose the plot
Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone brought on five attacking players in the second half, which turned the game on its head. Manchester City were finding it increasingly difficult to keep hold of the ball, with Atletico harrying them off possession with relative ease.
Instead of maintaining discipline and piling on the pressure, Simeone’s men indulged in an all-out brawl against the City players.
In the 89th minute, Felipe brought Phil Foden to the ground with a heavy challenge. Stefan Savic roughed up the Englishman in his attempt to get the player back up, prompting a full-scale rumble between the two teams.
The referee first sent Felipe off and then cautioned Atletico’s Savic and City’s Nathan Ake, Riyad Mahrez, Foden, and Joao Cancelo. Had the hosts not let the Premier League champions get under their skin, they could have continued piling pressure on them and maybe even would’ve got the equalizer.
#2 John Stones steps up to the plate for Manchester City
Pep Guardiola fielded a strong XI to battle Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday night. Surprisingly, City’s attacking players could not quite live up to the hype as Simeone’s men guarded the goal with everything they had.
Fortunately for Guardiola, that was not the case with his defense. Courtesy of John Stones’ valiant performance, the English giants managed to thwart Atletico’s advances, especially in the second half.
Stones did not put a foot wrong against Atletico and was always found breathing in their neck. Four minutes before regulation time, Stones superbly blocked Cunha’s goalbound attempt from point-blank range. Had he not put in the tackle, City might have had to prepare for an additional 30 minutes or even a penalty shootout.
Against the reigning La Liga champions, Stones performed two clearances, won both of his attempted tackles, triumphed in three ground duels and accurately played three long balls.
#1 Manchester City endure double injury blow
Pep Guardiola’s side showed plenty of resilience to book their place into the Champions League semi-finals. Unfortunately, their sweet victory was marred by injuries to two crucial players.
Twenty minutes into the second half, Kevin De Bruyne had to be replaced after seemingly pulling a muscle during a pursuit. Raheem Sterling came on in the Belgian's place.
A couple of minutes later, Kyle Walker went down following a challenge with Lodi on the right-wing. The English right-back landed heavily on his ankle and needed immediate treatment.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t walk off the knock and had to be taken off in the 73rd minute, with Nathan Ake replacing him.
The Citizens are next set to play Liverpool in a vital FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley on Saturday (16 April). And Guardiola will need a miracle to get both players fit for the vital clash.