Manchester City is halfway through a difficult stretch of four games in 11 days, but they don’t have time to sit back and reflect on their accomplishments thus far.
On Sunday, Pep Guardiola’s team tied 2-2 with Liverpool, just five days after defeating Atletico Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals. They will face Atletico Madrid in the second leg on Wednesday, seeking to maintain they’re fine form and reach the final four for the second consecutive season.
The first leg played out exactly as many predicted: City dominated possession of the ball while Atletico sat deep, with Kevin De Bruyne eventually finding a way through for a patient City. The same could happen for a portion of the game at the Wanda Metropolitano, though Guardiola will still have some critical battles to consider before kickoff.
The key players are back.
In the first leg, Diego Simeone set up his team to defend first and foremost, with two banks of five players stationed continually around the penalty area throughout the first half.
After halftime, Antoine Griezmann remained as the lone outlet, indicating that Simeone intended to hit City on the counter. The decisive breakaway never materialized, and Atletico failed to score, although they were losing one of their top counter-attacking outlets.
Yannick Carrasco was suspended, but he will be eligible for selection on Wednesday. The Belgian will most likely start at left-wing back, and his pace and directness mean he will be the outlet Atleti will most likely go to when trying to strike City on the break.
Guardiola must find a way to contain Carrasco’s threat; Kyle Walker, who is also expected to return from suspension, will most certainly play a role in this.
Phil Foden was a surprise absence from Guardiola’s starting lineup for the first leg, but his performance off the bench in the second half demonstrated why he will be crucial to City’s success this week.
The city had struggled to find space to create due to Atletico leaving very little space between the lines, but Foden made the difference just two minutes after coming on.
He brushed through a challenge and threw the defenders into a frenzy, breaking their defensive rigidity and creating space for De Bruyne to run into and score from Foden’s ball.
Foden has a unique sense of space and vision, so how the Atletico defense deals with him will be the decisive battle of the night.
City created few clear-cut chances in the first leg, which was unsurprising given Atletico’s strong and compact defense. When the clearest opportunity of the night presented itself, it was critical that they did not waste it; happily, De Bruyne was on there to convert.
During Sunday’s 2-2 stalemate with Liverpool, City created and missed plenty of chances, failing to capitalize on Liverpool’s errors in the first half. City will have few clear-cut chances in Madrid, but when they do have a shot on target, they must make the most of it.