The time has come. Those weeks in which everything is decided. The ones that the coaches mention in the good moments of the season starts and in the fall. To which the success of the season is procrastinated. The moment of the truth. Atlético de Madrid has been left with a (hypothetical) very English itinerary. Quarterfinals against Manchester City, possible revalidation against the marble Chelsea in the semifinals and a dream final against Liverpool in Paris after the favor of the Reds. But we go by parts because the first step is up. Manchester City is not a rival with a history in the competition or a great fanbase (factors to believe). But it is a competitive gear to the extreme and that never allows itself to be subdued by the rival or appear vulnerable. It’s a tremendous team.
The good news for Atlético de Madrid is that Rubén Días (best player in the Premier League in the season of his debut with the Sky Blues) will be absent in the first leg due to a thigh problem and with great probability also in the second leg. And the center backs (Stones, Ake and Laporte) have an individual level. But everyone praises him along with the Portuguese defender. His hierarchy, leadership and positioning will not be there. And Atlético has a weapon to exploit there.
Football is decided in the areas, and Simeone’s team has a great chance of coming out on top. Beyond what is mentioned in the defensive plot, on the opposite side of the field, the only Manchester City striker is Gabriel Jesús. And the Brazilian striker is having a residual role in the citizen rotation. The Mancunian team is like ketchup when you squeeze it at the end of the bottle. Sometimes it comes out a lot and other times nothing. It was seen in the round of 16 tie against Sporting de Portugal (0-5 and 0-0). They have matches of tremendous solvency like in the past Manchester derby (4-1 against United) or their thrashings against Leeds (7-0) and Leicester (6-3), and other matches of infinite scarcity (0-0 against to Southampton and Crystal Palace and tight wins against Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Guardiola played his card to get Harry Kane last summer and it didn’t happen. And he was still the Tottenham striker or no other. The bet of not having a replacement striker for Agüero right now is uncertain. But he will be able to give his opinion with greater criteria in two weeks. Back on April 20 they will have played their quarter-final tie against Atlético, they will have faced Liverpool in a transcendental match in the Premier League to decide who escapes and who reaches in the last days of the league and, as if that were not enough, Jurgen Klopp’s team will be measured again in a life or death match for seeking the FA Cup final at Wembley.
The regularity and solidity of Manchester City is beyond doubt. It is a team with lots of talent. Kevin De Bruyne is once again a determining player and is once again in full form. Bernardo Silva is playing the season of his life. Joao Cancelo has become a total footballer from the left side. Raheem Sterling has gone from less to more over the months, Foden perfectly understands the role of false nine and is consolidated as a star of the now and not of the future… the virtues are numerous and varied.
It’s a great team. But a club with ghosts on its European itinerary. Despite last season’s success despite losing in the final, the teams that have knocked the Citizens out of the Champions League aren’t much of a buzz (with the exception of Liverpool in 2017/2018). The list is revealing with Monaco in 2017, Tottenham in 2019 and Olympique Lyonnais in 2020. You can buy the players but not the history. And the City is aware of it.
We will have to see how Atlético returns to its origin. Because despite the overflowing quality and good players that there are from midfield onwards in the mattress team, in this tie they will, more than ever, know how to live and work without the ball. The mental factor of all this in a squad of players with a mostly offensive vocation will be key. Simeone’s ability to convince all of this is beyond doubt. The ability of the players to adapt to such a context will be put to the test throughout the two games of the tie. The return will be at the Wanda Metropolitano. And without the priority value of away goals, Atlético has to stretch the gum as much as it can and trust its options to its stadium, its people and its essence. This time there is no need to conquer Manchester. It is only necessary to resist the onslaught of a torrent of football that will not stop. Manchester City can be a storm, but no sailor became an expert fishing in calm seas. And Simeone’s team knows it better than anyone. Go ahead.