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In the Zone: Atlético 0-0 Man. City performance analysis

UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyses last week's brilliant quarter-final decider, when Manchester City's defensive fortitude and Atlético's pressing tactics were to the fore.

In the Zone: Atlético's midfield press

If Manchester City's matches so often produce a highlights reel of attacking prowess, their UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Atlético de Madrid was an exception.

What it offered instead was intriguing in different ways, a goalless draw in which Atlético offered an example of how to knock City out of their stride – and Pep Guardiola's men highlighted their defensive fortitude. In this article presented by Fedex, the UEFA Technical Observers' Panel analyses both of those elements of a contest which ended with City through to their third UEFA Champions League semi-final.

As it happened: Atlético 0-0 Man. City

Player of the Match: John Stones (Manchester City)

Player of the Match: John Stones highlights and reaction

On a night when City had only one shot on goal, their England centre-back played a significant role in the other penalty area, earning the PlayStation® Player of the Match award in the process. "He was always alert to stop Atlético's direct threat and defended the penalty area with huge efficiency," said the UEFA Technical Observer panel. "He was vital to City keeping a clean sheet."

Team formations

Diego Simeone's men set up in a 1-5-4-1 formation. On the ball the hosts looked for switches of play and swift attacks in behind City's defence, with balls aimed by the right and left-sided centre-backs – respectively Stefan Savić (No15) and Reinildo (No23) – to the opposite flanks to exploit the width provided by Antoine Griezmann (No8) and Marcos Llorente (No14) on the right and Renan Lodi (No12) on the left. City's defence also had to guard against good runs in behind from João Félix (No7), the central attacker.

Out of possession Félix pressed City's centre-backs, with the backing of the midfield three of Thomas Lemar (No11), Koke (No6) and Geoffrey Kondogbia (No4) who worked unstintingly off the ball to win back possession and obstruct City's passing flow. The same went for Griezmann who, in his efforts to hinder João Cancelo, worked so deep at times that Atlético's formation morphed into a 1-6-3-1.

Man. City
City played in their usual 1-4-3-3 formation though it had the look of a 1-4-4-1-1 out of possession with Phil Foden (47) and Kevin De Bruyne (17) starting in the central attacking positions and Bernardo Silva (20) playing on the left and keeping a watch on Atlético wing-back Llorente. Although the starting formation (right) shows Foden in that role, within 20 minutes, he had swapped places with Bernardo and remained out on the left until the last whistle.


As already mentioned above, Atlético defended with aggression and intensity in the middle third, so disrupting City's ability on the ball. The video above offers examples of these efforts to press City in the first period, which led to Kyle Walker (clips 1 and 2 in the video above) and Aymeric Laporte (clip 3) sending misplaced passes out of play.

Highlights: Atlético 0-0 Man. City

The UEFA observer noted that in the second half, Atlético retained their structure but advanced their line of high press, trying to move their defensive medium block to an aggressive high block. In this way, Simeone's men gained real momentum. Their long passes and long diagonals provided their biggest threat from open play with Félix or Griezmann usually on the last man as Atlético prepared to attack the visitors' half of the field.

It was striking how, after taking so few risks – offensively and especially defensively – for the first 135 minutes of the tie, Atlético showed a different level of intent in the last 45 minutes, driven on by the support of the raucous Metropolitano crowd. Thus a side who had not a single shot in their 1-0 first-leg loss in Manchester, and just one in the first half of the return, managed 13 in the second period last Wednesday night (two on target).

Where the Rojiblancos had 26 touches in the City box after the break, Pep Guardiola's side managed just one – along with a single shot on target, by Іlkay Gündoğan who was foiled by Jan Oblak when clean through in added time. (Incidentally, the same player, Gündoğan, had struck a post in the first half at the conclusion of a move featuring a magnificent, outside-of the boot Riyad Mahrez pass down the wing to Walker.)

Highlights: Man. City 1-0 Atlético

This contest offered evidence that that City – who return to the Spanish capital next month for the second leg of their semi-final against Real Madrid – can be knocked out of their stride. As an illustration, their pass completion percentage was their second lowest of this campaign (86.9%). However, the fact City pulled through was evidence of the resilience that has now brought four straight clean sheets in the knockout stage. They shrugged off the loss of injuries to Walker and De Bruyne and defended their box with impressive focus and concentration, retaining their concentration, composure and discipline on a challenging evening.

As well as Stones, Rodri, on his return to his former club, caught the eye of the UEFA observer, winning all five of his aerial duels and making four tackles with an 80% success rate. Meanwhile, to highlight the pressure withstood by City late on, by which point Atlético had four fresh attacking players on the pitch, substitute Nathan Aké made more clearances (five) than any other player on the pitch despite only entering the action in the 72nd minute.

Coaches' assessments

Diego Simeone, Atlético coach: "We want to win, however possible. So I'm gutted that we are out. But we've been beaten by an extraordinary rival. They normally score three or four and we've pushed them, conceded very few chances and we've blocked their brilliant associative play. We lacked the goal we needed, so we have to congratulate them for going through."

Josep Guardiola, Manchester City manager: "I didn't expect anything else. We talked about it half-time: 'Get ready for the worst'. We played Liverpool a few days ago, came here and they were all over us in the second half. If we hadn't played the way we played in the first leg we wouldn't be sitting here saying we got through.

"John [Stones] was brilliant. Aymeric [Laporte] as well. A lot of games in our legs, and travel after Liverpool was so demanding. Second half we dropped with our intensity but at the end we were there and were lucky to go through. But it is two games and [overall] we deserve to go through."