Atletico Madrid are masters of the dark arts and will try every trick to unsettle Man City

Rodri knows. He spent 12 months with Diego Simeone and the next three years in England, so telling Koke over the international break exactly what Manchester City expect came from a place of certainty.

‘We live many games like this in the Premier League,’ Rodri said to his Spain and former Atletico Madrid team-mate as they traded barbs before this intriguing Champions League quarter-final, one with all the bubbling anticipation such an occasion deserves.

City are fully aware of what is coming: stubbornness with bells on but a lingering threat as well, the potential to be undone by one bad pass against opposition who only really fancy leaving their half when they know there is ground to steal and goals to pinch .

Rodri (pictured) told his former Atletico Madrid team-mate Koke that Man City are prepared

Rodri (pictured) told his former Atletico Madrid team-mate Koke that Man City are prepared

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone is the master of the dark arts

Atletico's style is only slightly different to Pep Guardiola's Manchester City

Stylistically, there are only subtle differences between Diego Simeone’s (left) Atletico and Pep Guardiola’s (right) City side ahead of their crunch Champions League quarter-final tie

Stylistically, there are only subtle differences between Atletico — third in La Liga — and many who attempt to frustrate Pep Guardiola at a weekend.

Simeone, the dark art destroyer of many wealthier foes in this competition over the years, wants his team to sit, wait and punish when the opportunity arises.

Although class usually shines through, City have occasionally found this sort of opposition tricky to maneuver of late.

Crystal Palace and Spurs are the two teams who have left the Etihad with victories this term, playing in exactly the sort of fashion Guardiola will expect from Atletico this evening.

Those wins were achieved by pressing at precisely the right moments — often in their own third — and breaking at stunning pace.

Koke’s response to Rodri at Spain’s camp centered on the fact that Atletico have superior attackers to many who try to stifle City domestically.

Koke's (right) response to Rodri at Spain's camp claimed that Atletico have superior attackers

Koke’s (right) response to Rodri at Spain’s camp claimed that Atletico have superior attackers

Only Spurs have anything close to a forward line of Joao Felix — once courted by Guardiola — and Antoine Griezmann. That is what makes Atlético far more dangerous.

A fascinating spectacle awaits if City cannot force home an early opener to settle themselves down and Guardiola wanted to calm the narrative that Simeone is his stylistic antithesis.

‘There is a misconception about the way he plays,’ Guardiola said. ‘It’s more offensive than people believe. He doesn’t want to take risks in the build-up, but they have quality and play really well in the final third.

‘I’m not going to talk for one second about stupid debates. Everyone tries to win. If they win, he will be right. If we win, I will be right. When the ball is in our half, the quality of the players they have… they are a rich team tactically. What are we going to do to annoy them?’

Guardiola made the pitch exceptionally wide in his only European meeting with Simeone in 2016, a semi-final. Bayern Munich narrowly lost in Madrid before battering Atletico at the Allianz Arena, eventually going out on away goals after some Simeone rearguard action for the ages. Bayern had more shots that night, 33, than Atletico’s percentage of possession, 27.

Tonight, though, they find themselves at a defensive disadvantage with the absence of the injured Jose Maria Gimenez. Seven of Atletico’s 12 defeats this season have come when he has been missing.

Atletico find themselves at a disadvantage with the absence of the injured Jose Gimenez

Atletico find themselves at a disadvantage with the absence of the injured Jose Gimenez

‘What I like most about City is the strength and effort they put into winning the ball back and continuing to attack,’ Simeone (right) said. ‘Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, they’re always active, they always run. They never leave a ball lost. All managers want that.

‘They have better players than us. But there are two games to play. City and Bayern are favorites because of their players but last season Chelsea won. Not many expected that.’

Atletico are here after shocking Manchester United last month. ‘United had different characteristics,’ the Argentina added. ‘They are a lot more direct, a lot quicker. City manages things very well all over the pitch. We’ll have to be better than we were three weeks ago.’

The visitors’ famous gamesmanship will remain. But Guardiola reminded that City are no strangers to that side of football. ‘What is ugly?’ he asked. ‘You defend your position.

We won 2-0 at Old Trafford and Bernardo spent minutes with the ball in the corner… is this ugly? No.Smart. I’m not going to judge for one second what other teams do.’

He has judged his critics, though. Guardiola has been relaxed since the international break and could not resist taking playful aim at those who claim he over-complicates these knockout matches.

He had already said ‘overthink’ unprompted before later addressing the comment fully. Warning: contains sarcasm.

‘I overthink a lot,’ he started. ‘That’s why I’ve had very good results in the Champions League. I love to overthink with stupid tactics, and if I don’t win I look stupid. I will take inspiration and do incredible tactics. We’ll play with 12 tomorrow.’

Twelve would make life slightly easier against the continent’s best defensive coach, in fairness.

.

Leave a Comment