Report from the Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Etihad Stadium as Pep Guardiola's Man City earned a hard-fought win over Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid at the Etihad Stadium thanks to Phil Foden's swift impact off the bench
Wednesday 6 April 2022 08:57, UK
Kevin De Bruyne’s second-half goal was enough to secure a 1-0 win for Manchester City against Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
In an absorbing tie at the Etihad, Diego Simeone's team held out for 70 minutes but Phil Foden's introduction brought the breakthrough that puts Pep Guardiola's side in charge.
Despite a dominant performance, there was no second goal, meaning progress is far from guaranteed ahead of next week's second leg in Madrid but this was a hard-fought victory.
Man City: Ederson (6), Cancelo (7), Stones (7), Laporte (7), Ake (7), Rodri (6), Gundogan (7), De Bruyne (8), Mahrez (6), Bernardo Silva (7), Sterling (6).
Subs: Jesus (6), Grealish (7), Foden (9).
Atletico: Oblak (6), Vrsalkjo (7), Savic (7), Felipe, Reinildo (7), Renan Lodi (8), Llorente (7), Koke (7), Kondogbia (7), Griezmann (6), Felix (6).
Subs: De Paul (6), Correa (6), Cunha (6), Lemar (n/a).
Man of the match: Phil Foden.
Manchester City dominated from the outset, the pattern set as Atletico set up camp inside their own half, relying only on sporadic counter-attacks to relieve the pressure.
Joao Cancelo had a shot, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne yelled for penalties, balls came into the box. Atletico withstood the pressure. Jan Oblak was not tested in the first half.
Atletico Madrid did not attempt a single shot in the first half, the first time they have had zero shots in the first half of a Champions League match since game-by-game shot data is available for the competition (2003-04).
The personnel at the club may have changed with talk of a more expansive approach, of that old defensive resolve being lost, but on the big stage this was a familiarly stoic Atletico.
Could City find a way through and take a lead back to the Spanish capital? They probed and they pushed, but there was a warning when Antoine Griezmann almost raced away.
The best chance of the first hour of the game came from a free-kick that De Bruyne fired low to Oblak's left but the Slovenian goalkeeper cleared the ball at the second attempt.
Pep Guardiola made three changes to the Manchester City team which eased past Burnley. Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and John Stones came in. Phil Foden and Jack Grealish dropped to the bench, while Kyle Walker was suspended.
Diego Simeone made two changes to the Atletico Madrid side which eased past Alaves in on Saturday. Koke returns to captain Atleti from midfield and was joined in the starting XI by centre-back Felipe.
It was tight, it was tense. Simeone made three changes, hoping to maintain the resistance. Guardiola followed with a triple substitution of his own in search of the breakthrough.
That proved decisive. Foden made the difference within seconds, his sublime threaded pass bringing purpose and penetration. De Bruyne, ruthlessly, did the rest. Joy. Relief.
Foden almost conjured a second soon after, his dancing feet finding space on the right but this time De Bruyne's low shot was blocked near the goal line. Atleti were still battling.
In the final stages that turned to desperation as there appeared to be a concerted attempt to get an opponent sent off. City just about kept their calm - and their nerve.
The tie is not over and Simeone will remain hopeful that a comeback is still possible in Madrid. But with Foden and the rest, it would be a mistake to bet against City.
Guardiola had mocked the notion that he overthinks these big Champions League team selections but perhaps the surprise decision to leave Foden out of his starting line-up for this huge quarter-final tie actually worked out well for him in the end.
Against tiring legs, his impact was immediate, his arrival altering the dynamic of the game in an instant. He was able to take the ball in a tight area - and there were plenty of them against this Atletico side - before finding the pass that City had been missing.
It was the moment that decided the match but it was not Foden's only moment. He got away again soon after and then found the best ball of the night, bent in behind the Atletico defence with the outside of his boot to find that man De Bruyne yet again.
In 20 minutes, he did enough to be the man of the match. He might even be Manchester City's best player now. Omitting him from the start did not prove costly here. But expect him to be in the line-up against Liverpool. Foden is just too good to be denied.
Man City boss Pep Guardiola: "It was a difficult game against a tough opponent. It was difficult to find spaces, but we were patient enough. It was a good result.
"We had one or two more chances at the end to score more goals. Even at 1-0, going to Madrid is always tough but it was a good result. We won the game, we won at Burnley, now we prepare for the next one."
Reflecting on De Bruyne's composed finish, manager Guardiola said: "He is in the best moment of the season right now.
"He is sharp, quick and positive. His influence in our game is massive. He scored an exceptional goal from the combination with Phil."
Guardiola added of Foden: "He has a special quality. His reception is always forward, his space in the first step is massive and he had the composure to make an incredible assist for Kevin."
Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone: "A good performance against an extraordinary team that manages to unite lots of world-class footballers into a superb unit. We wanted to defend well, squeeze spaces and hit them on the counterattack. Just when we looked like creating our best opportunities, they scored.
"That was a very difficult match. They took off three excellent players and replace them with three equally-excellent guys. I must admit we thought Foden would start. I'd also confess that it's enjoyable to see how City play. The patience they have. But we were both seeking the same thing, winning.
"They might be the best side in the world. We'll change how we play a little in the second half of this tie but it's all the same to them - City will play the same way. But with humility, and hard work, we'll compete. Then we'll just see where that takes us."
Do you really need reminding? Manchester City are back in action against Liverpool in their Premier League title showdown this Sunday, the teams separated by just a point at the top of the table. That one is live on Sky Sports with the kick-off at 4.30pm.
City go to Madrid for the return leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Atletico on Wednesday of next week, April 13.