soccer

Manchester City have a breakthrough against Madrid’s Atlético

MANCHESTER, England – After a while, Ederson decided to go for a walk, feeling bored and cold and wet. The Manchester City goalkeeper had a good opportunity to attack in the middle, but remembered their instructions to focus on wing attacks instead. He had checked all four corners for danger. He found nothing. He had narrowed his eyes into the distance, looking for danger on the horizon. There’s nothing there either.

And so he wandered from idleness. He was completely alone. There was no one else on his side of the square. Manchester City’s central defenders, players who worked as his mighty guards, were now stationed deep in Madrid’s Atlético, in positions usually occupied by elves attacking midfielders.

As he approached halfway, Ederson slowed slightly. He had the atmosphere of a man who had walked without a definite destination: he did not know what he was going to do when he got there. He bounced on the heel. He reached down and touched his toes. He limped for a few seconds, enjoying the feeling of being in a football match, and then slowly returned, sadly taking back his lonely post.

The Brazilian’s longing – as is often the case in both the domestic and European seasons – cannot be attributed to Manchester City’s overwhelming superiority in its confrontation, its enormous financial strength and its overcharged strength. Or rather, it cannot be based on that alone. To some extent, Ederson was bored because Atlético Madrid was happy to be bored.

Perhaps the best sign of how Atlético coach Diego Simeone was about to approach Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-finals came in the first second. Manchester City kicked off and at this point it seemed that every Atlético player was taking a step back, each man moving a little further in his half.

Or maybe it was a short, fleeting, and perhaps accidental moment when Geoffrey Kondogbia no doubt stormed into the City, looked up, and saw nothing but a pair of light blue shirts and a wide green in front of him. His teammates were not so flashing. They were all locked in their own holding pattern, ordered to stay in place.

That’s exactly what Simeone wants, of course. The Argentine is in many ways the opposite of Pep Guardiola, his City colleague. It’s a cliché now, such a vulgar decision that seems too easy, but it’s true.

Guardiola’s vision of football is based on the appearance of space. Simeone is focused and laser sharp to find ways for it to evaporate. Guardiola has built his legend on things to happen. Simeon has made sure they don’t.

Guardiola has said in the past that his perfect goal would touch each player’s ball, perhaps more than once, before anyone – no matter who – hits it unprotected.

On Tuesday, Simeone seemed to be trying something else: to pursue a crazy dream that the whole game went through without any of his players doing anything as effective as actually touching the ball, so they were so exhausted from the important action of closing the passes. and closing the corners of attack.

The style, when it works, is hard to love, but it’s easy to admire. And it has been working and working great for a while. This stubbornness, determination, defiance has become the cornerstone of Atlético’s modern European identity, a fundamental value that has made the eternal underdog a true European power: two Spanish titles and two European League winners, two Champions League finalists, now safe in its magnificent and vaguely soulful suburb.

And it worked almost here against Guardiola’s latest masterpiece, a team that remains untouched in the Premier League, a team that is probably the best in the world. Atlético suffocated Manchester City almost completely during the first half, and for much of the second half, with a sort of old-fashioned display of Simeone, which has earned the status of flag bearer of Atlético’s football counter-culture, the last resistance to the prevailing wind. pressing and possession.

However, it is almost significant. Not just because City finally made its way, Phil Foden carved past the masses of Atlético, creating exactly enough room for Kevin de Bruyne to win the game. This does not hold Simeon unnecessarily. He would have been privately pleased to have fled Etihad while his side was still in the lead.

No, what happened at the other end is much more important. There is one form of defense that Atlético, Atlético, has not learned, one aspect of his chosen art that remains elusive: attack.

After all, the best defenses necessarily involve moments of danger. It is in those moments, in those rare attacks, when the overworked defense has time to recover, to reorganize, to summarize. And it is at these moments that doubts are sown in the minds of opponents, when even a team as good as Manchester City begins to doubt whether it should involve so many players. on.

Simeone’s best Atlético teams had it: Antoine Griezmann’s pace, the cunning of David Villa in the fall, the taurine warfare of Diego Costa. This Atlético team won’t do it. The goal was not scored in the first half. It had one, perhaps another, although there is a very good chance that it was meant to be a cross.

Ultimately, this is a mistake in the plan, a problem in finding satisfaction in nullity. The defense did not have to, not quite, and now Atlético must win next week in Madrid, and for that the premises must be opened, not closed. It must create, not destroy. Simeon seemed to be bored with Ederson. But he wasn’t nearly as happy as Guardiola.

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