MADRID — On a night when Atletico Madrid tried everything to make Manchester City lose their minds, Pep Guardiola’s players showed they had the steel as well as the silk to win the Champions League.
In the end, it was the home side who lost their temper when Brazilian defender Felipe was sent off following a corner showdown that involved most of the 22 players and backstage staff. two benches.
The fact that Atletico’s frustration finally boiled over was due to the way Man City pulled off an awkward equalizer amid the chaos to see the game 0-0 and keep the aggregate at 1-0, setting up a semi-final with Real Madrid later this month. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s not always necessary.
The night ended after more than 13 minutes of stoppage time with Guardiola pelted with bottles as he left the pitch and police separating players on both sides in the tunnel after Stefan Savic ran after Jack Grealish. If City can get through that, they can get through anything.
“Nothing to say,” Guardiola said after being asked about the scrum on the pitch and in the tunnel. “It’s always difficult with these people in this stadium. “It’s a big compliment for the players. We have given everything. We have to live with these kinds of situations. We have suffered.
“We can’t expect everything to be wonderful against the Spanish champions. The opponent was really, really good.”
Backed by fierce backing inside the Wanda Metropolitano, Atletico laid out their plan to literally knock City out of pace from the first minute. At the Etihad last week they looked unwilling to engage with City’s blue shirts far beyond the edge of their own penalty area, but at home they suddenly found a whole other half to play.
Savic quickly came charging out of defense to thunder into the back of Ilkay Gundogan in the center circle, and Kyle Walker was forced into a slip after Diego Simeone roared his players forward from his technical area.
If Simeone had asked for more aggression before kick-off, Felipe took it too literally. Not content with hitting Phil Foden hard enough to leave the 21-year-old bloodied and bandaged, Felipe went on to wipe Kevin De Bruyne’s legs.
Foden had it tough again when Savic unnecessarily burst into his side as the ball went out of play for a throw-in. Savic vs. Foden was an ongoing battle that lasted all evening.
Moments of calm mingled with City when it would have been easy for City to fold. Riyad Mahrez was cool enough to kick the ball around Joao Felix in his own penalty area before the Portuguese striker rushed towards Ederson only for the goalkeeper to deliver an accurate pass through the midfield of the Atletico and at the feet of Gundogan.
In the past, City have been guilty of letting Champions League knockout ties descend into chaos, coming second against Monaco in 2017, Liverpool in 2018, Tottenham in 2019 and Lyon in 2020. there were spells on Wednesday, especially in the second half, when it looked like the game was going to turn in that direction, but it’s a City team that looks much better for the experiences of these heartbreaking exits.
Man City defended fiercely when needed – John Stones made a vital block of Matheus Cunha after 87 minutes and Ederson saved Angel Correa deep in stoppage time. In the end, it was the determined clean sheet rather than their usual champagne football that propelled them to a second straight semi-final and only a third in club history.
“They are the Spanish champions and they played with energy and in the second half they were better than us and we were lucky not to take it,” added Guardiola. “In the first half, we had chances.
“Overall we are in the semi-finals – it’s well deserved. The opponent is so tough, all the Champions League teams come here and suffer, so it’s important that we go through.
“We cannot play all the time and score four or five goals. We are human beings, we have come from a difficult game against Liverpool. We are celebrating because this is the third time in Manchester City history that we are in the semi-finals of the Champions League.”
It keeps City on track for a Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup treble, although the clash with Atletico came at a cost following injuries to De Bruyne and Walker. Both were sent off in the second half ahead of the FA Cup semi-final with Liverpool at Wembley on Saturday.
A few others are likely to heal blows after a bruising encounter, but at a stage in the competition where City have failed before, this time they have proven themselves up to the test. They had impressive performances in the Champions League under Guardiola and this was another – just for different reasons.