It ended horribly. Police charging down the tunnel to break up fighting players, a hapless German official throwing cards at chaos in a desperate attempt to regain order.

And Manchester City hobbling towards their FA Cup semi-final with Liverpool. Kyle Walker looks to be out, probably Kevin De Bruyne too, judging by the ice on his legs. If Phil Foden says he is fit to play he should politely be told to give it a rest.

But they endured. City held on. Battered and bruised now, they will return to Madrid to play the team a few stops along Metro line 7 later this month. Real Madrid take a toll of a different kind, but football celebrates that. It won’t necessarily be any easier containing the skills of Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior and the brilliant finishing of Karim Benzema – but it will probably hurt a lot less.

Once again, the talk was of the dichotomy of Atletico Madrid. No team will drag Manchester City further out of their comfort zone than they did in a second-half almost without end, and that is to be admired. Yet some of their methods are needlessly horrible.

There is physicality and there is what Felipe did to Foden. There is aggression and there is the ugliness at the end. No doubt City will have played a part in events after the final whistle, but there were mitigating circumstances.

The charge sheet against Stefan Savic alone reads a verbal and attempted physical attack on a stricken Foden, a headbutt on Raheem Sterling and pulling the hair of Jack Grealish, who called him a word you will find in Chaucer. In the end, Savic disappeared down the tunnel in pursuit of Grealish, followed by the players, followed by four police officers. We may hear more of that.

We should certainly hear more of this, an outstanding performance by Manchester City in exacting circumstances. A player of Foden’s youth will come of age with this experience.

Atletico Madrid remain one of football’s greatest tests and City’s players passed. Testament to Guardiola, too, because a team with less discipline might have lost their heads completely. As it was, referee Daniel Siebert issued seven yellow cards after the 90 minutes had concluded, many to City players under pressure from a howling arena. Joao Cancelo will miss the first leg against Real Madrid as a result.

So this was an ordeal, as games against Atletico tend to be. Walker was not kicked out of it by Renan Lodi but it was a full-blooded challenge that did for his ankle.

De Bruyne probably succumbed to being the best player on the field across two matches, creating the most chances, scoring the only goal and going up against players who are coached by Diego Simeone to challenge every facet of their opponent’s play. Foden was simply clubbed in the head by Felipe, as if he were wielding a policeman’s baton. It was that sort of night.

But it is the Simeone way. He plays it a lot like a white ball cricket game, where everything happens in the last five or ten overs. Here, Atletico only played like they were losing the tie in the final 15 minutes of it. Then they threw everything at City, with Walker’s replacement, Nathan Ake, particularly busy. Rodrigo De Paul had two good chances, Antoine Griezmann another. And then it all got very ugly.

Atletico are sore winners and sorer losers so, as the minutes slipped away, they grew ever nastier. Felipe, who had already been booked, left one on Foden, again. He looked hurt. Savic came screaming over and accused him of play-acting.

Oleksandr Zinchenko, warming up as a substitute, pulled him away. A melee ensued. At the end of it, Savic was booked, and Felipe was dismissed. He didn’t go quietly, either. Arguing, kicking a stray water bottle, incandescent with rage.

Why? God knows!

He could have gone earlier.

We were 12 minutes in when Foden jumped for an aerial ball that was obviously his and was completely cleaned out in mid-air by Felipe from behind. At first, it looked like a brutal coming together. On repeat viewing, however, Felipe took the liberty. He wasn’t getting the ball but he made sure his upper body found the man, and he laid Foden out, face down on the turf.

It took several minutes of treatment, the patching up of a bloody wound to the back of the head, and some Terry Butcher-style bandaging before the City man was upright again. Should he have gone off for an independent concussion inspection? He certainly would in rugby. And it’s not as if this competition lacks the money to afford care.

Of course, City have doctors and player welfare is paramount. Even so, there does seem rather a lot of the ‘You OK?’ school of medicine when deciding on head injuries in football. That was what Guardiola appeared to ask Foden and he replied in the affirmative.

Yet what is he supposed to say? ‘Actually boss, I feel like I’ve done two E’s on the nut and had my head in the bass speakers at Spiral Tribe for six hours straight.’ Footballers aren’t like that. You ask them, and they say ‘fine’ and carry on. Foden carried on.

Incredibly, Felipe wasn’t even booked for the challenge, yet picked up a yellow card from referee Siebert nine minutes later for a considerably more routine foul on De Bruyne. It is still perplexing that professional referees at this standard can spot a very obvious tackle from behind, but not a blow that could have serious repercussions.

Siebert had lost control by the end. For Atletico it probably became counter-productive. With more focus, Atletico might have equalised. Instead, it was all carnage, whistles, screams and fury. City held on, amid chaos, through nine additional minutes and more. Ederson’s final save of the game from Angel Correa was timed at 102 minutes. It was madness.

What is it like to play Atletico? Put it like this. There was a moment after 40 minutes when Foden was played in, deep inside the penalty area and through on goal. He was shepherded wide, and then wider, and then out, and then upfield on the left flank now going back towards the halfway line. Welcome to the Wanda Metropolitano. Welcome to the world of Simeone’s Atletico.

So while Chelsea were brilliant in the way they handled Real Madrid in this city on Tuesday, so were City on Wednesday night. They stick as resolutely to their principles as Atletico Madrid. It’s just that their principles are far prettier to watch.

Atletico are outliers in elite European football with their emphasis on defensive organisation and physicality. Their new arena is loud and intimidating. Simeone stands so close to the action he could almost be a black-suited full-back. It is quite the package. But so, too, are City. And ultimately they handled them. City dealt with all Atletico could throw which, as Foden will testify, can be quite a lot.

At the end, the celebrations showed the measure of this victory with the bottles aimed at Guardiola more indicative of Atletico’s contribution. Yet their fans seemed happy enough.

They cheered their team to the rafters even on the way out. Again, it’s puzzling. Atletico’s first shot of the tie came after 126 minutes and in three hours they failed to achieve the point of the game. The best team won, despite the late tension. And as the aggregate score suggests, City are even better at defending.


Courtesy: Daily Mail UK

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