An unstoppable force meets an immovable object when Manchester City welcome Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Etihad.

Premier League leaders Manchester City will welcome Spanish champions Atletico Madrid to the Etihad Stadium for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final fixture on Tuesday night.

It represents the first competitive meeting between two sides who came out on top as far as their respective leagues were considered last season. It will also be the meeting between two distinct philosophies preached by two coaches who are amongst the best in the trade.

Pep Guardiola has always been a proponent of possession-based football, the tiki-taka and passing the opposition into submission. This eye-catching style contrasts sharply with Diego Simeone’s rugged yet effective defence-first approach. It promises to be an intriguing match between the two sides who are unlikely to shelve their philosophy irrespective of the opposition.

Both teams have also failed to win the Champions League, losing out in the final in recent years. While a win in the tie will not see them scale that final step, it will take them to the last four, strengthening the chances of making another final.

With a crucial Premier League clash against Liverpool coming up, Manchester City could not have asked for a tougher tie leading to that game. Simeone’s men will give no quarter, and unless they hold their own, the Cityzens could be in for a rude surprise. The Hard Tackle looks at how both sides could line up on the night and what tactics they might employ.

Manchester City

Last season’s finalists, Manchester City, will be keen to go all the way this season, ending Pep Guardiola’s European hoodoo at the Etihad. While Atletico remains a formidable challenge, it isn’t easy for Guardiola not to have an eye on Sunday’s potential Premier League title-decider against Liverpool.

Unlike the Round of 16, where Manchester City settled the tie in the first leg itself, Diego Simeone and his men will present a much more formidable challenge. Star defender and reigning PFA Player of the Year Ruben Dias is yet to recover from injury and will be unavailable on the night for the hosts.

The Portuguese star will be joined on the sidelines by Kyle Walker, who received a three-match suspension for his sending off against RB Leipzig in the group stages. Guardiola will have an otherwise fully fit squad and should opt for the usual suspects. The Catalan manager has a winning formation and will do well not to change it like in the UEFA Champions League final last season.

With Atletico expected to sit deep, Manchester City look set to enjoy the lion’s share of possession. How well they can get past Simeone’s low block remains to be seen. With away goals no more an issue, Manchester City can afford to be more gung ho in their approach and lay siege to Jan Oblak’s goal.

Simeone’s men showed against Manchester United that they are not averse to hitting teams on the counter should the opportunity present itself. As long as City keep things simple, they should maintain control of the game. The Sky Blues look set to be deployed in a freely flexible 4-3-3 formation. Ederson is the sure starter in goal behind a back four of Joao Cancelo, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Rodri will hold the fort in midfield, allowing Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to attack with freedom. Riyad Mahrez looks set to return to the starting XI and start up front alongside Phil Foden and summer signing Jack Grealish.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Cancelo, Laporte, Stones, Zinchenko; Silva, Rodri, De Bruyne; Grealish, Foden, Mahrez

Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid have picked up their form of late and are currently on an eight-game unbeaten streak. Los Rojiblancos are still some away from their dominant best but will fight tooth and nail for every 50-50 at the Etihad.

This is the Spanish champions’ third trip to England in this season’s Champions League. They fell 2-0 to Liverpool at Anfield in the group stages before securing an excellent 1-0 win against Manchester United to knock them out in the Round of 16. Having booted the red half of Manchester out, they will be aiming to claim the full set over the two games against Manchester City.

Simeone will be without Hector Herrera and Jose Gimenez, both of whom are out injured. Mario Hermoso returned to action on Saturday, while Yannick Carrasco will also be available after serving his suspension.

Atletico look likely to start in a rigid 4-4-2 formation with the two lines of four set to sit deep. Jan Oblak is a certain starter in goal, behind a back four of Reinildo, Felipe, Stefan Savic and Sime Vrsaljko.

Koke will provide the engine in the middle of the park alongside Geoffrey Kondogbia, while Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente will be tasked with providing width down the flanks. Joao Felix is in excellent form and should start up front alongside Luis Suarez, who grabbed a brace at the weekend.

With Antoine Griezmann also available to come off the bench, Manchester City cannot afford to let their guard down. The longer the home side is held scoreless, the more frustrated they might get, allowing Atletico to seize control of the tie.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Oblak; Reinildo, Felipe, Savic, Vrsaljko; Carrasco, Koke, Kondogbia, Llorente; Suarez, Felix

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Key Stats

  • Manchester City and Atletico Madrid have never faced off against each other in a competitive matchup.
  • Pep Guardiola has faced off against Diego Simeone’s teams four times in his career, winning twice. Simeone, meanwhile, has won one game with another ending in a draw.
  • Having defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford in the previous round, Atletico Madrid can win back to back games on English soil for the first time should they come out on top at the Etihad.
  • Manchester City have defeated Spanish clubs in three of their four meetings under the guidance of Pep Guardiola.
  • Manchester City have won 64% of their knockout games in the UEFA Champions League since Pep Guardiola took over in 2016. This is the best win percentage for any team in the competition during that time frame.

Player to watch

Rodri

Rodri set to come up against his former club (Photo by Lindsey ParnabyAFP/Getty Images)

Rodri set to come up against his former club (Photo by Lindsey ParnabyAFP/Getty Images)

The Spanish international has developed into a key player for Pep Guardiola and is the club’s midfield enforcer. His ability to win the midfield battle permits the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Man City’s stellar supporting cast to drive forward without fear and lay siege to opposition goals.

Apart from just his ability on the ball, Rodri is also adept in the dark arts and can summon a tactical foul when needed with no abandon. On Tuesday, however, he will meet the original purveyors of those arts in Atletico Madrid, presenting for a fascinating contest.

The likes of Koke and Kondogbia will do their best to get stuck in and maybe even provoke Rodri. How the Spaniard reacts to having his own game played against him could make the difference. As long as the 25-year-old can hold his own, Manchester City will be expected to have the upper hand in the tie.

Prediction

Manchester City 2-1 Atletico Madrid

The game promises to be a close one and could be decided by who lets their guard down the most. For all their strength in depth, Manchester City have looked vulnerable if tackled head-on, and it is difficult to see Diego Simeone’s side shy away from doing just that.

That being said, this is an Atletico side that are far from their unbeatable best. The Spanish champions can be bested, and given Manchester City’s quality and strength, that appears to be the likely outcome.

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