Manchester City rose when Atletico Madrid tried to bully them and got a Champions League semi-final place

MADRID – On an evening when Atletico Madrid tried everything to make Manchester City lose their heads, Pep Guardiola’s players showed that they have both the steel and the silk to win the Champions League.

In the end, it was the home team that lost its composure when Brazilian defender Felipe was thrown out in the wake of a confrontation in the corner that involved most of the 22 players and the back room from both benches.

Atletico’s frustration eventually boiled over was the credit for the way Man City managed an awkward draw in the middle of the chaos to watch the match go 0-0 and hold 1-0, setting a semi-final with Real Madrid later this month. It was not pretty, but it does not always have to be.

The night ended after more than a 13-minute break with Guardiola being thrown from bottles as he left the pitch and with police pulling players from both sides into the tunnel after Stefan Savic had run after Jack Grealish. If City can get through this, they can get through anything.

“Nothing to say,” Guardiola said afterwards when asked about the melee on the pitch and in the tunnel. “It’s always hard with these people in this stadium.” It’s a big compliment to the players. We gave everything. We have to live in those kinds of situations. We suffered.

“We can not expect that we will do everything great against the Spanish champions. The opponent was really, really good.”

Backed by fierce support inside the Wanda Metropolitano, Atletico laid out their plan to literally knock City out of their rhythm as early as the first minute. At the Etihad last week, they did not seem to enter into dialogue with City’s jerseys much beyond the edge of their own penalty area, but at home they suddenly found a whole other half to play in.

Savic quickly came charging out of the defense to thunder into the back of Ilkay Gundogan in the center circle, and Kyle Walker was forced into a slip after Diego Simeone had roared his players forward from his technical area.

If Simeone had asked for more aggression before the kick-off, Felipe took it too literally. Not content to clap into Phil Foden with enough force to leave the 21-year-old bloody and bandaged, Felipe followed it up by stroking the legs away of Kevin De Bruyne.

The foot got the hard again as Savic unnecessarily crashed into his side as the ball rolled out of play for a throw-in. Savic against the Foot was a running match that continued all evening.

The mix was moments of calm where it would have been easy for City to fold. Riyad Mahrez was cool enough to knock the ball around Joao Felix in his own penalty area before the Portuguese striker drove towards Ederson, only for the goalkeeper to drill an accurate pass through Atletico’s midfield and into Gundogan’s feet.

In the past, City have been guilty of letting Champions League knockout ties fall into chaos, with them coming second best against Monaco in 2017, Liverpool in 2018, Tottenham in 2019 and Lyon in 2020. There were periods on Wednesday, especially in the second half, where it looked like the game would swing that way, but this is a City team that looks far better after the experiences from the shocking exits.

Man City defended stubbornly when they had to – John Stones made a vital block from Matheus Cunha after 87 minutes, and Ederson saved low from Angel Correa deep inside stoppage time. In the end, it was the determined clean sheet rather than any of their usual champagne football that sent them on to another consecutive semifinal and only a third of the club’s history.

“It’s Spain’s champion and they played with energy and were better than us in the second half and we were lucky we didn’t concede,” Guardiola added. “In the first half we had chances.

“Overall, we are in the semi-finals – it is well deserved. The opponent is so tough, all the teams in the Champions League come here and suffer, so it is important that we go through.

“We can not play all the time and score four or five goals. We are people, we come from a tough match against Liverpool. We celebrate because it is the third time in Manchester City’s history that we are in the Champions League semi-final.”

It keeps City on course for a triple of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup, although the clash with Atletico came to cost after injuries to De Bruyne and Walker. Both were forced out in the second half ahead of the FA Cup semi-final with Liverpool at Wembley on Saturday.

A few more are likely to be breastfeeding after a bruise, but at a point in the competition where City have come up short before, this time they showed up for the test. They have had some impressive Champions League performances under Guardiola, and this was yet another – just for other reasons.

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