It was, they said, Atlético Madrid par excellence. The La Liga champions are known as the ultimate spoilers, and much of the discourse that followed their narrow first leg defeat at Manchester City leaned towards light drowning out the forces of darkness.
There is a prevailing image of Diego Simeone‘s team that was only reinforced by their chanceless showing in the first leg in Manchester – that they defend deep, give nothing away and are generally averse to any sort of attacking expression. Most casual Atleti watchers have seen all they want to and have made up their minds about them.
The odds now reflect that City are not so much fancied but more ultra-favourites, to win on the night 1.834/5 as well as to qualify – 1.152/13 versus Atlético at 7.413/2. The form makes a case for that. In their last two matches, at City and at struggling Mallorca, Atleti have slipped to a brace of single-goal defeats and mustered just one shot on target. That’s in the two games combined, by the way.
Atlético are, as Marca wrote on Monday morning, “drying up at the worst possible moment.” The odd glance at them leads one to the conclusion that they are reverting to type – negative, unambitious and unable to cause City much inconvenience in this second leg. Atletico’s Champions League displays and results in recent years, far from the pomp of Simeone’s early seasons in charge, also ushers us towards the realisation that this is not the team that reached the final (and came so close to winning) in both 2014 and 2016.
Atlético have tools to hurt City
The knowledge that this is a different Atlético is what should put Pep Guardiola on guard. Yes, Simeone’s men are a team in transition (last year’s La Liga title, won narrowly against opponents in Real Madrid and Barcelona who were a little further back in their own evolution obscured the truth of that), but they do have it in them to attack.
In fact, until they drew their unexpected blank at Mallorca and Barcelona scored three in Sunday night’s win at lowly Levante, Atleti were La Liga’s joint-second top scorers with the Catalan giants, behind Real Madrid.
They have the attacking tools, led by the excellent João Félix and supplemented again with Ángel Correa after he served a domestic suspension at the weekend, to make it tough for any team – and enough individual quality to mean that coherent team play is not entirely necessary.
What Simeone needs of his men is the bravery to make a fast start, which they showed they can do against Manchester United in the early stages at the atmospheric Wanda Metropolitano in the last round (to bust another cliché, they did similar in their pomp to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in this competition), to see if there are any weary City legs after Sunday’s titanic tussle with Liverpool.
The lesser consequences of conceding an away goal should be their Dutch courage. Atlético need to quickly snap out of their recent funk, but they absolutely have the ability to do so.
West Ham still favourites ahead of French jaunt
Whatever your view of the justification (or not) of Aaron Cresswell‘s red card in last week’s first leg at the London Stadium, there is no doubt about one thing – it totally changed the course of the match. Lyon pummelled West Ham in the second period, while showcasing the profligacy in front of goal that has limited them in Ligue 1 this season.
With 11 men, West Ham are very much in this tie. What we spoke about before the first game still holds true in terms of Lyon’s questionable shape without the ball and though the French side dominated possession even before Cresswell’s early departure, David Moyes’ team looked dangerous bursting into space in the channels via Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio. They are sure to get more of those chances, with Lyon maybe even less able to cover than normal with a mounting injury list in midfield.