On one hand, there is City who are known for its possession-based game and is coached by Pep Guardiola who popularized the ‘tiki-taka’ system of fast build-up play using the acquired possession.
On the other side, there is Atletico who have become exceedingly popular for their low block defensive structure with the most meagre amounts of ball possession, coached by Diego Simeone who himself taught Atletico the ways of the ‘dark arts’ of playing almost 70 minutes without the ball.
Unsurprisingly, this attack vs defence structure quickly came to define this first leg of the Quarter-Finals at the Etihad Stadium.
Right from kick-off, the Spanish side maintained a compact shape in their own half with City seeing much of the ball. This ensured that all of the goal-mouth action came inside the Atletico box as the Citizens had a number of half-chances to convert. The clearest chance came only in the second half from a Kevin De Bruyne freekick just outside the box that Oblak parried away.
As City kept knocking on the door, the decisive breakthrough came from the Belgian who calmly slotted past Oblak from a tight angle after latching onto a Phil Foden through ball which was enough to secure the win. City finished the game with over 71% possession while Atletico did not register a single shot or shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.
Barring the result, it was a vintage performance from the La Liga side who kept breaking up play and prevented City from building up play comfortably through fouls and other shenanigans. As a team, Atletico committed more than 13 fouls and picked up 3 yellow cards in the game. They kept at it even after conceding the KDB goal and soon after Jack Grealish came on as a substitute.
The Englishman who is known for his ability to draw players towards him used it to give Atletico players a taste of their own medicine and slow down the clock for a City win.
Since coming on in the 68th minute, Grealish won the most fouls (5) than any other player on the pitch. During one instance, Grealish was bundled over and Angel Correa kicked the ball to his face which angered the Englishman who then had to be pulled away from the horde of Atleti players by Pep Guardiola of all people.
It seems Stefan Savic and co. had done their homework on Grealish as he was clearly targeted. At one point, they were also spotted pulling the former Aston Villa star’s hair in an attempt to unsettle him.
Speaking after the game, Guardiola touched on Atleti players targeting Grealish and praised the Englishman for remaining focused. “We have to control our emotions and do what we have to do [in Madrid],” said the City coach.
As much effort City players have put into breaking Atletico’s rigid defence, they would also need a similar effort to play against the Spaniard’s attempts to mentally exhaust the Citizens in the second leg. With City taking a 1-0 lead to the Spanish capital in a week’s time, this would surely be on the minds of Grealish and co.