Madrid – On one night when Atletico Madrid tried everything to make Manchester City lose their heads, Pep Guardiola’s players showed they had the steel as well as the silk to win the Champions League.
In the end, the hosts lost their nerve when Brazilian defender Felipe was sent off following a corner encounter involving most of the 22 players and back-chair staff from both seats.
Atlético’s eventual frustration is thanks to the way Man City managed an embarrassing equalizer amid the chaos to score 0-0 and hold the aggregate 1-0, kicking off their semi-final match with Real Madrid later this month. She wasn’t pretty, but she doesn’t always have to be.
The night ended after more than 13 minutes of injury time, with Guardiola pelting bottles as he left the pitch and police dragging players from both sides into the tunnel after Stefan Savic raced past Jack Grealish. If City could get past this, they could overtake anything.
“Nothing to say,” Guardiola said afterwards when asked about the melee on the pitch and in the tunnel. “It’s always difficult with these people on this court.” It’s a big compliment to the players. We gave it all. We have to live this kind of situation. we experienced.
“We can’t expect to do everything great against the Spanish champions. The opponent was really good.”
Bolstered by fierce support within the Wanda Metropolitano, Atlético laid out their plan to knock City out of their rhythm as early as the first minute. At the Etihad last week, they didn’t seem eager to get involved with City’s blue shirts outside their penalty area, but at home they suddenly found a whole other half to play in.
Savic quickly ran out of defense to hit Ilkay Gundogan’s defense in the center circle, and Kyle Walker was forced to slip after Diego Simeone shook his players forward from his technical zone.
If Simeone had asked before kick-off for more aggressiveness, Felipe took it too literally. Not content with clattering at Phil Foden hard enough to leave the 21-year-old bloodied and bandaged, Philby followed by slashing Kevin De Bruyne’s legs away.
Foden got things rough again when Savic unnecessarily stormed to his side as the ball went out of play for a throw in. Savic’s fight against Foden was going on all evening.
Moments of calm mingled when it was easy for City to fall apart. Riyad Mahrez was calm enough to knock the ball around Joao Felix in his own penalty area before the Portuguese striker rushed only Ederson towards the goalkeeper to carve a precise pass through Atletico’s midfield and into Gundogan’s feet.
In the past, City have been guilty of allowing Champions League knockout matches to slip into chaos, as they were runners-up to Monaco in 2017, Liverpool in 2018, Tottenham in 2019 and Lyon in 2020. There were periods on Wednesday, particularly in the half. The second, when it seemed like the game was going to go awry that way, but it’s the City team that looks so much better from the experiences of those horrific exits.
Man City defended persistently when they had to – John Stones saved a vital shocker from Matthews Cunha in the 87th minute and Ederson saved a low kick from Angel Correa in injury time. In the end, it was the numerous clean sheets that propelled them to their second consecutive semi-final and third in the club’s history.
Guardiola added, “He is the champion of Spain and they played hard and in the second half they were better than us and we were lucky that we did not concede.” “In the first half, we had chances.
“Overall, we are in the semi-finals – it is fully deserved. The opponent is very strong, all the teams in the Champions League come here and suffer, so it is important that we pass.
“We can’t play all the time and score four or five goals. We are human beings, we came from a difficult match against Liverpool. We are celebrating because it is the third time in Manchester City’s history that we are in the Champions League semi-finals.”
City remain on track for a hat-trick in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup, although the clash with Atletico came at a cost after De Bruyne Walker was injured. Both were forced out in the second half ahead of the FA Cup semi-final match with Liverpool at Wembley on Saturday.
He is likely to suffer a few blows after a traumatic encounter but at a point in the competition when City failed before that, this time they proved they were ready for the test. They put in some great performances in the Champions League under Guardiola and that was another – just for different reasons.