It was suffocating, full of blood – just as it was reported – and exploded in the 89th minute with a team fight between the players of both Atletico Madrid and Manchester City, including plenty of substitutes.
The spark came when Atlético defender Felipe, already booked to clear Phil Foden early on, slipped off the touchline before appearing to kick him. With Foden down, everything exploded, another Atlético defender, Stefan Savic, tried to raise him afloat and was pushed away by Oleksandr Zinchenko, who was an unused substitute for City, as everyone met.
There will be many. When the warring parties were eventually parted, Felipe received a second yellow card and Savic the first, most likely due to a scuffle with Foden rather than head over to Raheem Sterling, another City substitute, which he appeared to have missed.
Injury time stretched to 13 minutes – there would be seven bookings during that time alone – and there was almost an equalizer for Atletico’s substitute, Angel Correa, who extends Ederson with a low shot at the end.
The stadium was in a frenzy, minds lost, and after the full-time whistle there was a tunnel fight between former City player Savic and Jack Grealish, another unused City substitute, which led to a mob of police officers attacking after them. Grealish had called Savic a C-word during the melee, which resulted in Savic clutching his hair.
However, when the atmosphere calmed down and a sense of sanity returned, City had what they wanted – a place in the Champions League semi-finals, where Real Madrid will face Chelsea’s invaders across town on Tuesday night in what was once. A different kind of high-octane classic.
From the city’s point of view, it was all about their resilience balls – as the locals said – and it was especially fun how they stuck together during the pressure cooker in the second half to come away with a hard-earned clean sheet.
It was hard to remember Pep Guardiola’s struggling players who were stuck inside their own half for so long, but that’s exactly what happened throughout the entire second half, Ilkay Gundogan’s 97th-minute shot that was brilliantly saved by Jan Oblak and didn’t hold back.
City had established themselves in the first half, but it was a different story after the first, stifled by a deeply partisan mob, Atlético stifled them, forced them back, and asked uncomfortable questions. From the start of the second half, they went high, brought aggression and had several flashes in front of goal, which the local fans were quick to overtake. Renan Lodi’s cross was too far in front of the dangerous player Joao Felix, the attacker’s header from the heart of Marcos Llorente, Antoine Griezmann was wide of the goal from the edge of the area.
City struggled to get on the field. Atlético’s game plan worked, and they had their opponents exactly where they wanted them – on the back foot, impulses racing. Moments of the heart in the heart of the City’s roving support continued to appear. Substitute Rodrigo de Paul, substitute in Atletico, hit the ball, Correa hit a penalty kick against a group of Joao Cancelo and Rodri, and in the 87th minute, substitute Mateos scored a shot from John Stones.
Diego Simeone brought Luis Suarez off the bench and it was written that he would find an equaliser. However, it was Correa who came closest at death, saving Ederson and Zephyr the city.
It was an epic competition in its own way, partly for the wrong reasons, with the Dark Arts ever present. And let’s not pretend the city didn’t hire them. With Fernandinho taking the lead in the 79th minute to oversee matters, the City players fell and remained fidgety at times.
Foden was a symbol of their defiance. Felipe left him dazed and bloodthirsty after he jumped at him in an aerial challenge in the 12th minute, eliminating him with a ferocious upper-body canoe. But Foden, who came out with a bandage wrapped around his head, refused to be intimidated. Remarkably, Felipe avoided a booking for that but quickly secured his first booking to enter Kevin De Bruyne’s back. Midfielder will eventually limp.
Guardiola wanted his players to seek and enjoy the ball, so they set foot in the first half, as Atlético’s initial surge waned. City came close with an early corner kick, and Stones shot high, creating a huge first-half opportunity in the 30th minute.
Riyad Mahrez released Kyle Walker, who sent a low cross, and when Foden hit the ball, Gundogan had a chance to shoot from close range. He hit the post and Felipe headed the counter.
Atletico couldn’t take a shot in the first leg and only got away from them once in the first half here – a skewed effort from Geoffrey Kondogbia, which was routine for Ederson. The second period was anything but.