Two football philosophies will clash on Tuesday as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City face Atlético Madrid and Diego Simeone in the Champions League’s last eight
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Pep Guardiola will face a man he knew was destined for great things when his Manchester City side take on Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid.
The Spanish champions are savvy competitors on the European stage, thanks in large part to the work and impact of their manager. Few clubs on the continent reflect their manager as well as the Madrid outfit, who have reached two Champions League finals and won the Europa League twice under Simeone.
Guardiola did not meet Atletico during his tenure at City, but did hire them when he took charge of Bayern Munich in 2016. He took on a man he had welcomed to Barcelona seven years earlier as both men embarked on their management journey.
Atletico would have the final say in a semi-final draw that ended 2-2, with the Spanish side making progress thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s away goal at the Allianz Arena. Guardiola’s prediction about Simeone had come true – the Argentine questioned his tactics at Barcelona and it made a lasting impression.
The City boss said in an Amazon Prime documentary: “He came to practice and we chatted – how do you get out, how do you press or center, how do you attack in tight spaces, whatever. And he said something that was good and helpful and finally shows Cholo’s personality We talked and he said ‘I don’t feel it, I don’t like it’ Then I said ‘Wow this motherf***** will be good’. ”
Guardiola and Simeone couldn’t be further apart on the football spectrum with their principles and philosophies vastly different. The Catalan wants to dominate matches, where possession is a major factor. However, Simeone is quite happy with being reactive rather than proactive.
It has proved to be a successful strategy, but Guardiola has admitted he would never adopt similar tactics. He claimed: “I can never do that to my teams. But I admire the ability to resist, to resist. They know that at some point the bee will sting.” Often for Simeone and Atletico.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been left looking for answers. In 2016, when Bayern tried to undo a 1-0 defeat in the first leg, they set their sights on Germany. Simeone has since said: “The game against Bayern was incredible. I can’t believe my eyes. We can’t go beyond midfield.”
City’s tactics will likely be the same as Guardiola’s and his side are trying to do even better than 12 months ago. The Champions League has eluded the tactician for 11 years now and many feel he should win for the Premier League side even though he has dominated in every other field.
Guardiola has been accused of thinking too much about Champions League matches in the past. His decision not to play a midfielder in the latest defeat to Chelsea last May has been widely criticized. Whatever he chooses to do in the first leg, which will be played in Manchester, Simeone will be the man to try to counter it.
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Two years ago it was Liverpool who wondered how their dominance was not rewarded when they lost in the last 16. After losing 1-0 in Spain, they took a 2-0 lead over Anfield to see Atletico score three goals in extra time to continue. The result clearly didn’t go down well with Jurgen Klopp, who said: “It’s so hard to play against a team like that. I don’t understand with the quality they have that they play this kind of football, I don’t understand to be honest.
“When I see players like Koke, Saul and Llorente, they could play good football, but they were deep in their own half and have counterattacks. But it’s true, the winner is always right. Okay, they beat us, that’s how it and of course we accept that, congratulations Atletico. But it doesn’t feel right tonight to be honest.”
The story seems to be stuck. Guardiola’s City will enjoy north of 70 per cent of the ball, have more chances, but it will come down to whether the unstoppable force can overcome the immovable object as both teams chase the European Cup that has eluded them both.