Man City show final missing quality needed to win Champions League vs Atletico Madrid – Joe Bray


The last time Manchester City were in Madrid, they produced perhaps their best European performance in the modern era, silencing the Bernabeu and giving themselves the belief they belong among the Champion League’s elite clubs.

Much has changed in the two years since, not least because the 2020 win at Real Madrid was City’s last pre-pandemic European trip. They have overcome their quarter-final hoodoo, reached their first final, and are now in a second-successive semi-final. The reward for overcoming Atletico Madrid’s stubborn tactics is consecutive trips to the Spanish capital and a return to the Bernabeu next month.

In 2020, City sent a message that they are genuine Champions League contenders as they knocked out Zinedine Zidane’s all-conquering side, but they failed to build on it. Now, in 2022, their latest Madrid trip shows they are more than just contenders. They are the team to beat.

ALSO READ: Tunnel footage shows Man City and Atletico Madrid players clashing after Champions League tie

These two quarter-final games with Atletico have perhaps been City’s toughest test in Europe under Pep Guardiola. Previous successes from the Champions League have been self-inflicted or the results of general inexperience in Europe. And previous statement wins against the likes of Real, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain have all seen City contain an attacking opponent and be clinical in attack.

Against Diego Simeone’s Atletico side, they’ve had to add discipline to the mix against a team barely looking to play much football at all.

That’s not to criticize Atletico’s approach. It clearly works, and every player buys into Simeone’s philosophy. They have knocked out Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid and others, as well as reaching two finals. They have a system and use it extremely well – to the point where they were happy with a 1-0 defeat at the Etihad as it gave them a chance to pick City off at home. Or try to.



While every player in this quarter-final was technically brilliant, carrying out the intricate instructions of their manager perfectly, the first game resembled one of those Oscar-winning films packed with the world’s best actors. You know you’re watching the best of the best, but ultimately the action is sacrificed for technical excellence and it isn’t much fun to watch.

The sequel at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday was much more enjoyable as Atletico committed a few more men forward on the counter-attack. There was still a clear contrast between Simeone and Guardiola’s approaches, but perhaps with more emphasis on action than exposition, to continue the metaphor.

With Atletico relentless in their intensity and looking to influence the referee at every moment, City won’t have faced a mental test like this before in Europe. Jack Grealish and Phil Foden remained calm in the face of persistent provocation across the two legs, while City in general kept focused on the task instead of Atletico’s mental tactics throughout.

Even when Felipe earned a second yellow for a kick at Foden and Stefan Savic sparked a huge melee, City players just about kept their heads and went on to block some key chances in their box in injury time. Tensions may have spilled over in the tunnel afterwards, but Atletico’s provocation was increasing throughout and until the final whistle at least, City remained cool.

It was the kind of experience they lacked in previous Champions League campaigns, and they have now displayed arguably the last quality needed to be a European Champion – discipline. It wasn’t a two-legged performance that will win any Oscars, but there’s justification for considering it one of City’s best in the Champions League, on their 100th appearance in the competition.

The fact that it came in Madrid was fitting too after a mix of results in the city in the last ten years. In 2012, they were brave but defeated in the group stages, and in 2016 they weren’t quite ready to reach a first final. In 2018, Tottenham contested the final at the Wanda Metropolitano when it should have been City, and two years later the Blues took a big step forward at the Bernabeu before taking two back when going out to Lyon in the next round.

Could 2022 be the year then, when all those lessons came together on one side of Madrid, to send the City back to the Bernabeu ready to silence the doubters once and for all?

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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