Manchester City will take a 1-0 lead into their Champions League quarter-final second leg after grinding out a narrow win over Atletico Madrid at the Etihad Stadium.
Kevin De Bruyne scored the only goal of the game, but most credit goes to substitute Phil Foden who made the decisive impact by creating that winner moments after coming on.
In a tactical chess match of the highest order – anyone other than the purist of the purists would say boring – clear chances in the first half were few and far between. Neither side mustered a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes and the best opportunity for either came when Ilkay Gundogan failed to make contact with a teasing cross in from the right flank.
The hosts, who are so used to cutting through opponents, lacked the energy and incisiveness to really give Diego Simeone’s well-drilled defence problems.
City had a soft penalty appeal waved away in the closing stages of the first half when De Bruyne fell under minimal pressure between two Atletico defenders.
Owing to their tactical shape, Atletico’s biggest threat was left to the counter attack. Joao Felix was a nagging threat, while Gundogan did just enough to dispossess Antoine Griezmann on a breakaway.
It was almost an hour before Jan Oblak was tested, getting down low to parry a De Bruyne free-kick that was cleverly bent around Atletico’s defensive wall. Not long after, Aymeric Laporte should have done better with a free header at a corner, directing his effort over the bar.
Pep Guardiola’s changes midway through the second half had the desired impact. Barely more than a minute after coming off the bench, Foden had cut through Atletico in a way that none of his teammates had been able to, sliding a ball in for De Bruyne to finish beyond Oblak.
Foden’s quick feet cutting in from the right presented City with a chance to extend the lead. But as the ball made its way to De Bruyne on the edge of the box, Stefan Savic stood in the way.
Man City player ratings - Champions League
1. Goalkeeper & defenders
Ederson (GK) - 6/10 - Largely a spectator. Picked up a bizarre late booking when he raced out of his goal to confront Cunha.
Joao Cancelo (RB) - 6/10 - Impressive energy as always.
John Stones (CB) - 6/10 - Saw a lot of the ball and used it pretty well.
Aymeric Laporte (CB) - 6/10 - Should probably have scored with a header a few minutes before City actually took the lead.
Nathan Ake (LB) - 6/10 - Functional rather than spectacular.
Kevin De Bruyne (CM) - 7/10 - Involved in most of what City did and eventually made the breakthrough with a composed finish.
Rodri (CM) - 7/10 - Patrolled the middle of the pitch as you would expected. Constantly recovered possession.
Ilkay Gundogan (CM) - 6/10 - Was the closest of anyone in the first half to opening the scoring but failed to make contact. Made a crucial defensive intervention soon after half-time.
Riyad Mahrez (RW) - 6/10 - A few crosses into the box went unrewarded.
Bernardo Silva (ST) - 5/10 - Looked lost as the 'false nine'. Dropped back into a deeper role later on.
Raheem Sterling (LW) - 5/10 - Neat in possession, not enough penetration.
Gabriel Jesus (RW) - 5/10 - Suspended for the second leg.
Jack Grealish (LW) - 5/10 - Took plenty of physical punishment.
Phil Foden (CM) - 8/10 - Instant impact with an immediate assist. Gave City extra impetus and energy that they didn't have before.
Atletico Madrid player ratings - Champions League
5. Goalkeeper & defenders
Jan Oblak (GK) - 6/10 - Made his first save nearly an hour in. Stood little chance as De Bruyne fired past him.
Sime Vrsaljko (RB) - 6/10 - A little wasteful with the ball but handled Sterling and later Grealish pretty well.
Stefan Savic (CB) - 7/10 - Made an important block that denied his former club a second goal.
Felipe (CB) - 7/10 - Repelled City attacks and frequently cleared the danger.
Reinildo Mandava (CB) - 7/10 - Survived second half penalty appeals but was never really in danger of being punished for it.
Renan Lodi (LB) - 5/10 - Tough to make anything happen offensively.
Marcos Llorente (CM) - 5/10 - Worked hard but struggled to get involved.
Geoffrey Kondogbia (CM) - 7/10 - Frustrated his opponents for large parts of the match. Covered huge amounts of ground and rarely lost the ball.
Koke (CM) - 6/10 - Strong in the tackle but withdrawn after an hour as Simeone looked to give his team a different edge.
Antoine Griezmann (ST) - 5/10 - Difficult night with so few touches. Didn't have the pace to make the most of an early second half breakaway.
Joao Felix (ST) - 6/10 - Extremely isolated with little service but looked a threat on rare counter attacks.
Angel Correa (RW) - 5/10 - Booked as the aggressor in a mini-flare up.
Rodrigo de Paul (CM) - 4/10 - Gave the ball away a lot.
Matheus Cunha (ST) - 5/10 - No real impact.
Thomas Lemar (LW) - 4/10 - Fewer touches than minutes on the pitch.