Manchester: Manchester City have a slender lead from the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final after Kevin De Bruyne’s 70th minute goal earned them a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
It was a result City had to eek out against an Atletico side who had clearly travelled to England with the aim of simply denying Pep Guardiola’s side opportunities and who failed to produce a single shot on target.
Diego Simeone’s outfit had frustrated City throughout the first half with their deep lying defending and reliance on only the occasional counter to threaten the hosts.
City rotated the ball with their usual expertise and made it difficult for Atletico to push out from their deep defensive formation, while never over-committing themselves.
But the Premier League champions were unable to turn their total dominance of possession into clear chances with Aymeric Laporte having one of the best opportunities after the break, but the defender’s header from a corner was off target.
Atletico’s rare breaks served as a reminder to City that they had to keep some discipline, although when the Spaniards did fashion an opening Marcos Llorente failed to test Ederson.
City kept their shape and moved the ball well but it took the introduction of substitute Phil Foden for the home side to find the missing ingredient.
Foden, who came on with Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus, drew three defenders towards him before splitting the Spanish rearguard with a perfectly weighted pass to De Bruyne who slotted past goalkeeper Jan Oblak with a side-foot finish.
De Bruyne then had space for another attempt on goal, which was well blocked by defender Stefan Savic’s outstretched foot.
The second leg will be held at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid next Wednesday but before then City have a crucial clash at home to Premier League title rivals Liverpool on Sunday.
De Bruyne said it had been difficult to break down a team playing with such numbers behind the ball.
“It’s very hard. They played with almost five at the back and with five in midfield. I recommend anyone that says anything ... that they try playing against that on the training ground.
“We have to stay composed and dont try to get into their action. It is the way they play. One nil is one nil. I expect similar over there. If the game is tight they will have to attack a little bit more,” added the Belgian.
Guardiola was pleased with the way his side had approached the contest.
“We played an incredible top side who are difficult to face but it is a good result,” he said, while praising his players for avoiding some of the potential flash-points in the game.
“It is not easy to face a team with a lot of experience in this tournament. We will go there to score and try and win again,” he added.
Simeone was full of praise for City and said the first half display was largely due to Atletico’s opponents rather than his tactics.
“We didn’t play the way we wanted in the first half, we couldn’t break out. It was a bit better after the break but City are the best team in the world. They have scored so many goals at home in the recent past,” he said.
“But this is halftime and let’s see how the second game goes in Madrid.”