Manchester City vs Atletico Madrid | Tuesday 5th April 2022, 20:00 | BT Sport
Man City’s quest for an elusive Champions League title sees them welcome defending La Liga champions Atletico Madrid to the Etihad in this quarter-final first leg.
The English champions dealt with the pressure to reclaim top spot in the Premier League on Saturday, following their 2-0 win against struggling Burnley. It saw the Citizens record 18 shots and win the expected goals (xG) battle 1.47xG to 0.13xG.
The Sky Blues have only lost two of their 20 home games in all competitions this season, while their home record in the UCL reads P4, W3, D1, L0 – scoring 12 and conceding 5.
Diego Simeone’s side haven’t mounted a strong defence of their La Liga crown. Los Rojiblancos are in a battle to finish second with Sevilla and Barcelona with all three teams tied on 57 points.
Saturday saw them require a late show from Luis Suarez and Joao Felix, as they netted three goals in the final 15 minutes to beat Elche 4-1 with doubles for the pair after Joao Felix’s earlier opener.
In the Champions League, the Spanish club have won three of their four away games in this season’s competition, with their only defeat coming at Anfield against Liverpool (2-0). And in the previous round, we saw what Atletico did at Old Trafford to stifle and, ultimately, frustrate Man Utd, so those tactics could well come to the fore once more in Manchester.
In a strange sense, City’s trip to Turf Moor on Saturday could prove the perfect prep for how Simeone’s Atletico will look to set up.
Man City were pretty much in cruise control throughout, and Guardiola was able to rest Riyad Mahrez and John Stones ahead of this one. Stones could come in to replace Nathan Ake, while Mahrez has been directly involved in more goals in this edition of UCL than any other City player (7 – six goals, one assist).
With Mahrez’s presence on one flank with Raheem Sterling on the other, plus the marauding full-backs, City should be able to pin Atleti back, which sways me towards the corner markets once more.
No side has won more corners in the Premier League than City’s 256, an average of 8.5 per match. So, I’ve put a Bet Builder together, which is best priced at 10/11 with 888Sport – while it’s been backed from 20/23 to 4/5 on Bet365.
The market is Man City over 2.5 first-half corners and over 5.5 match corners. At 10/11, it’s quite attractive with the Sky Blues having already taken 28 first-half competition in the competition, an average of 3.5. They’ve taken 3+ in five of their eight so far.
While City have hit the 6+ mark for corners in seven of their eight Champions League games. The only game it didn’t land was the away game against Club Brugge, where they cruised to a 5-1 victory.
Recently, City finished on six corners in their goalless draw at Crystal Palace and took four first-half corners. And overall, in the top-flight, they’ve hit 3+ first-half corners in 23 of 30 games (77%) and 6+ in 26 of 30 (87%).
If Atleti do play with a low block and ask City to break them down, then the hosts should continue their trend of racking up the corners. At Burnley on Saturday, they took eight, with seven of those coming before half-time. So, combine the two for an attractive angle.
Now, the main man to lead Atletico’s counter attacks will be Joao Felix, who has recorded 11 attempts during the comp, including three shots on target. I was eyeing up the 10/11 for him to have 1+ shot on target, something he did against Man Utd, Liverpool and AC Milan.
The 22-year-old helped fire Los Rojiblancos to victory at the weekend with both of his efforts on target resulting in goals. And in his last six league starts, he’s recorded seven shots on target.
But I think his presence could see a couple of City players walk a disciplinary tightrope with Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs. In his three UCL games this season, he’s dished out 16 yellows, including 11 in Sevilla v Lille.
He took charge of Man City in Belgium, booking four players in total, including Aymeric Laporte, who we know isn’t afraid of making a rash or cynical challenge.
However, it’s Rodri that I’m expecting to make a few fouls, and they won’t go unnoticed by Kovacs. Atleti will look to take anything to relieve sustained pressure, so they’ll be happy to go to ground quite easily, which could see City’s frustrations spill over.
Rodri has committed more fouls than any other City player in this season’s competition (13), although he’s only been carded once – that did come in the home game against PSG.
If you look for a definition of the phrase ‘getting away with murder’, you’d find an image of Rodri. And that was epitomised by the Palace game last month!
But the Spaniard has got a big job to do. His first one is to protect the two centre-backs but also cover when the two full-backs push on. I can see Joao Felix looking to expose that space, so that is when Rodri might be reduced to take one for the team.
And if there is any needle, the Spaniard isn’t usually too far away from the thick of it, so I’m more than happy to take the 11/4 (Bet365) about him to be carded, considering referee Kovacs has shown 155 yellows and seven reds in 31 games this season.
Interestingly, the ref has shown a red card in four of his last 10 games. While in eight of those 10, he’s shown 4+ cards, so the line set on Bet365 (over 4.5 cards) could be one to play the overs given what’s at stake in such an important clash.