Manchester City matchwinner Kevin De Bruyne remarked that Atletico Madrid played with ‘five at the back and five in midfield’ at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night.
City were eventually able to break down the stubborn visitors to secure a 1-0 win that they will take into the second leg in Madrid next week as an aggregate lead.
De Bruyne netted the only goal of the game after being set up by Phil Foden, whose second half introduction off the bench proved to be decisive for Pep Guardiola’s side.
“[Atletico] played five at the back and five in midfield, so it’s very hard to find the spaces,” the Belgian reflected afterwards when quizzed by BT Sport.
“It was a very hard game. They’re solid – it’s their way of playing and I think we played pretty well under the circumstances,” he explained.
“It was always going to be tough to create some opportunities. The first half was tight, but we didn’t give anything away, and in the second half we had a couple of chances. I think the way we played was good because we didn’t give anything away. You need to be calm and patient, try to find the spaces. You’re going to lose balls because it’s so compact.”
De Bruyne added that he expects more the same in Madrid for the return leg on 13 April.
“Obviously, there are no away goals,” he said. “But I expect it to be a little bit similar [in the second leg]. If the game is tight, they will have to attack a little bit more.”
Guardiola was pleased that the changes he made midway through the second ultimately had a defining impact on the game and the result.
“The guys were playing well but we know with Gabriel [Jesus] and Phil had a special energy and Jack [Grealish] the quality to keep play the ball. Today the manager was so clever,” he told BT Sport.
“All the manager when we make the substitution is we believe it will be better. Sometimes it doesn’t work. If it works, it’s good. If it doesn’t work, it’s a mistake.”