Manchester, England – After a while, feeling annoyed, cold and wet, Ederson decided to go for a walk. The Manchester City goalkeeper spent 20 minutes on duty guarding his penalty area. He tested four angles for danger. He found nothing. He looked into the distance, frowned, scanned for some threat on the horizon. There is nothing there either.
And so, lazily, he turned to the front. He was completely alone. There was no one else in his half field. Manchester City’s central defenders, the players who used to be his fierce sentries, are now deeply rooted in the Atletico Madrid area, where the Elfin attacking midfielders are habitually occupied.
When he got to the half line, Ederson slowed down a bit. He had the wind of a man walking with a specific destination in mind: he didn’t really know what he wanted to do when he got there. She bounced on her heels. She stretches down and touches her toes. He sat motionless for a few seconds, indifferent to the feeling of what it should be like to be involved in a soccer match, and then, slowly retracing his lonely post, slowly returned.
The Brazilians have failed miserably – as can often be the case during both domestic and European seasons – for Manchester City’s irresistible superiority over opposition, its huge financial strength, its supercharged power. Or, rather, it simply cannot be traced. However, Ederson was upset because Atletico Madrid was satisfied with his upset.
Probably the best indication of how Atletico coach Diego Simeone wanted to move forward in the first second of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final. Manchester City had a kickoff, and at that moment, every single Atletico player seemed to take a step back, each man going a little farther into his own half.
Or perhaps it was that brief, fleeting and perhaps accidental moment when the suspect Geoffrey Condogbia burst into half of the city, looked up and saw nothing but a few light blue jerseys and a wide swath of green in front of him. His teammates did not give so much shock. They were all locked in their holding pattern, under orders to stand on their ground.
This is exactly what Simeon wants. The Argentine is in many ways the opposite of his City opponent Pep Guardiola. It’s a clich,, now, a clich রায় verdict that sounds very simple, but it’s true.
Guardiola’s vision of football is based on appearing somewhere out of place. Simeon’s focus, the laser sharp, is on finding a way to evaporate it. Guardiola has created his legend to make things happen. Simeon has confirmed that they will not.
Guardiola has previously said that his ideal goal would involve touching the ball of every single player, perhaps more than once, before someone – no matter who – strokes it into an unprotected goal.
On Tuesday, Simeone seemed to be trying to do something different: chasing some crazy dream where the whole game went by without any of his players doing anything effective to touch the ball, so they were swallowed up by the important business of closing the passing lanes. And Close the angle of attack.
Style is, when it works, hard to love but easy to appreciate. And it worked for a while, and worked spectacularly. That determination, that determination, that vengeance has become the cornerstone of Atletico’s modern European identity, the core value that has transformed an enduring underdog into a true European power: two Spanish titles and two Europa League winners, two Champions League finalists, now safe and sound. Bound to the suburban superdome.
And it has worked almost here, even against Guardiola’s latest masterpiece, a team that has remained untouched in the Premier League, a team that is probably ranked the best in the world. Atletico almost completely crushed Manchester City in the first half, and for the most part in the second half, the vintage Simeon display, which gave Atletico the status of a counter-cultural value-bearer in football, its ultimate resistance to the prevailing winds. Pressure and occupation.
Almost significant, though. Not only did City finally make their way, Phil Foden carved a path across Atletico’s huge ranks, creating enough space for Kevin de Bruyne to win the game. That won’t hold Simeon unnecessarily. He will, personally, be content to run away from Etihad and still have a tie.
No, what happened at the other end is more important. There is a form of defense that Atletico, this Atletico, could not master, an aspect of its chosen art that continues to prove elusive: attack.
The best defensive performance must include moments of danger. It is in those moments, when those rare attacks emerge, that it is time to restore, reorganize, and reorganize an overworked defense. And at that moment, that suspicion is sown in the mind of the opponent, when even a great team like Manchester City begins to think of itself as second, when it begins to wonder whether it is committed to so many players. Forward
Among Simeone’s best Atletico teams were: Antoine Griezmann’s Speed, Autumn David Villa’s Trick, Diego Costa’s Tarin Belicocity. This Atletico team doesn’t do that. Couldn’t take a shot in the first half. It was a, perhaps, second, although there is a very good chance that it was meant as a cross.
This, in the end, is the error of planning, the problem of finding satisfaction in emptiness. The defense couldn’t hold on, not quite, and now Atletico must win next week in Madrid, and to do that they have to open up places, not close them. It must be created without destruction. Simeon was quite happy, it seemed, to bother Ederson. Although he was not as happy as Guardiola.