MADRID — Atlético Madrid wasn’t making any excuses for the overly defensive style it used in the first leg against Manchester City in the quarterfinals of the Championship League on Tuesday.
Coach Diego Simeone and his players were actually proudly defending it.
Atlético held back from the start against Pep Guardiola’s team in Manchester, conceding a second-half goal that sealed a 1-0 result ahead of the second leg in Madrid next week.
Guardiola showed his frustration after the game, saying that finding spaces against teams set up like Atlético was hard no matter whether the match was played “many years ago, now or in the future.”
The quote was seen in Spain as Guardiola taking a shot at Simeone and Atlético for resorting to an outdated style.
It didn’t take long before their supporters hit back.
“In love with your history since prehistory,” Atlético captain Koke Resurrección said on Instagram after the match, along with a photo of Atlético’s shield. “Proud to be Atleti.”
Guardiola complained of the difficulties breaking through the two lines of five players that Simeone used on defense to keep Man City from getting near Atlético’s goal.
Simeone said he was “proud” of how his team played.
“We come out of this match reinforced. We are very much alive,” the coach said. “We defended very well in the first half. There’s a lot of value, and there’s no shame, in a very strong defensive system.”
Guardiola had said before the game both styles had to be respected and it was good to have different ideas being used by different teams.
Man City ended with 15 total attempts, though only two were on target, including Kevin De Bruyne’s 70th-minute goal.
“They played almost five at the back and in midfield. It’s very hard to find the spaces,” De Bruyne said. “The way we played was good because we didn’t give anything away. You need to be calm, patient and try to find the spaces. You’re going to lose balls because it’s so compact.”
Atlético had not attempts and only about 30% of ball possession.
“We defended really well throughout the match with the sole exception of their goal,” Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “City play using possession as a strength, but we were clear-headed all night.”
Atlético’s solid defending had already helped the team get past Manchester United in the round of 16. After a 1-1 draw at home, it held on to a 1-0 win at Old Trafford to make it to the quarterfinals for the sixth time in nine seasons.
Thanks to forwards like Antoine Griezmann and João Félix, Atlético showed in the first leg against Man United it has good potential in attack as well, dominating the game and creating many scoring opportunities until conceding a late equalizer when the visitors looked beaten.
Atlético will need to score at least once at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the second leg against Man City next week to keep alive its hopes of winning the European competition for the first time after several close calls in the recent past.
“We’ll change how we play a little in the second half of this tie but it’s all the same to them, City will play the same way,” Simeone said. “But with humility and hard work, we’ll compete. Then we’ll just see where that takes us.”