Pep Guardiola praised Manchester City’s patience after Kevin De Bruyne broke Atletico Madrid’s stubborn resistance to clinch a 1-0 win in Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg.
Guardiola’s side spent much of the night banging their heads against the red and white wall of Atletico’s massed defence at the Etihad Stadium.
But Guardiola sent on Phil Foden midway through the second half and his sublime pass teed up De Bruyne to finally reward City for their territorial dominance.
“I didn’t expect to win three or four nil. I knew who we were facing. They have been together for many years,” Guardiola said.
“They defend so well, so compact and so deep. We were patient. You have to be against these teams. They want you to be anxious.
“It’s a good result. Unfortunately we had a couple more chances with Kevin to score again.”
While Guardiola launched a water bottle in a frenzied celebration that underlined what a testing night it had been for his team, the City boss knows the tie is far from over.
“Even a 1-0 lead going to Madrid is tough,” Guardiola said.
“We have to control our emotions. It will be a good test for us, our maturity. We will try to score and win the game.”
At the start of a season-defining 11 days for treble-chasing City, this was a qualified success that justified their patient performance.
But Atletico have already knocked out Manchester United in the last 16 this season, while Liverpool fell victim to Diego Simeone’s side when the Reds were the holders in 2019-20.
The Spanish champions will believe they can cause another surprise in the second leg in Madrid on April 13.
“It’s clear we were playing against an extraordinary opponent. We have to use a great way of defending and without being embarrassed,” Simeone said.
“We need to be better, see if we can have the ball a bit more in the second leg. Perhaps we can create more difficulties. We are still in the tie.”
City have no margin for error over the next two weeks as the Premier League leaders host Liverpool, just a point behind them in the title race, on Sunday.
They head to Madrid next week before facing Liverpool again in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley three days later.
Liverpool take command of tie against Benfica
Liverpool took charge of their Champions League quarterfinal against Benfica on Tuesday as Sadio Mane, Ibrahima Konate and Luis Diaz gave them a 3-1 lead after the first leg in Lisbon.
Konate nodded in his first Liverpool goal from a corner before Mane tapped home to put the visitors in command at the Estadio da Luz.
Benfica made a game of it early in the second half when a Konate error allowed the lively Darwin Nunez to pull one back, but Diaz, who was superb all night, added a third to put Liverpool in sight of the semis.
“They fought for their lives. We opened the door a little bit for them,” said Jurgen Klopp. “We scored a third one and I think everyone agrees we could and should have scored more.”
Liverpool will be confident of finishing the job at Anfield next week, with Klopp comfortable enough to take off Mohamed Salah, Mane and Thiago Alcantara after an hour.
Salah, in particular, was surely being preserved for Sunday, when Liverpool face Manchester City in what could prove to be the decisive match in the Premier League’s neck-and-neck title race.
The only disappointment was that Salah was unable to get on the scoresheet, with the Egyptian missing a handful of chances.
“Every player in that situation wants to score and it’s clear Mo wants to score as well,” said Klopp. “It’s a tough period, the boys came back from Africa and that’s really not easy. Massive pressure. They need some time to settle, everything will be fine.”
Benfica are dotted between a Liverpool-City league and cup double-header, with the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley coming after the second leg next week, before Klopp’s team continue a crunch period with league games against Manchester United and local rivals Everton.
Liverpool’s convincing victory may offer Klopp the luxury of rotating players again for the return leg next week.