Foden responds to Guardiola challenge
Pep Guardiola said after Manchester City’s win over Burnley at the weekend that his players needed to be ready to make a difference however many minutes they were on the pitch. Against Atletico, Phil Foden took 80 seconds.
Foden could rightly feel aggrieved not to be starting such a big game, having started more consecutive games than any other player in the squad this season and contributing in the selfless No.9 role. The 21-year-old is so versatile that it is hard to imagine he could not thrive in any game plan.
If the City boss wanted a reaction from Foden, boy did he get one. Coming on in the 69th minute, Foden’s close control instantly drew in four Atletico players near to the box who could do nothing as he slipped it through them onto Kevin De Bruyne to make the breakthrough.
READMORE: Man City player ratings vs Atletico Madrid as Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden give them an edge
Special players turn up on the big nights, and here were two of City’s combining to provide them with the advantage they wanted ahead of the second leg next week. It is hard to imagine that Foden will start Sunday’s game with Liverpool on the pitch from the bench after again showing what an important player he is in the big moments.
Guardiola reverts to type
Guardiola joked ahead of this game about overthinking, all too aware of the reputation he has earned in big Champions League games. And when the City team was announced on Tuesday evening, there was all manner of head-scratching over who was playing where.
Behind the smoke and mirrors, though, lay a formula which took City to their first-ever final in the competition. Short of a proper striker, this was a continuation of their strategy in the knockout rounds last year with at least one false nine as the team kept as much possession as they could and then flooded into the box at every opportunity.
Once again, it was highly effective. The defense did what they had to do on the rare occasions Atletico tried to counter, the midfield scuttled around shuffling possession about, and they got the crucial lead they wanted. What chance to repeat in Madrid?
Ake comes through after being targeted
It was Nathan Ake who started at left-back, preferred to Oleksandr Zinchenko as Guardiola opted to return to his central pairing of John Stones and Aymeric Laporte. Ake is not the quickest, and Atletico were keen to target this from the beginning as they played balls over the top for Marcos Llorente or Sime Vrsaljko to chase down the right.
To the Dutchman’s credit, he passed his test with flying colors in a position that is not his best to help the team pick up a vital clean sheet.
Home record gets even better
City are now unbeaten in their last 19 Champions League games at the Etihad. Paris Saint-Germain (twice), Real Madrid, Dortmund and now Atletico are among the teams that have tried and failed to defeat the Blues on home turf since the beginning of the 2018/19 campaign when Lyon claimed a shock win as Guardiola watched on from the stands.
Should City progress in Madrid, it bodes well for the semi-final.
Sign up to our City newsletter so you never miss an update from the Etihad Stadium this season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.