Manchester City v Atletico Madrid: Simeone, Guardiola and a clash of styles

By Sports Desk April 05, 2022

It is always fascinating when polar opposites collide. 

In the Premier League, Pep Guardiola's methodical Manchester City are leading the way, up against the juggernaut of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.

While Guardiola and Klopp are by no means cut from the same cloth, they do share similarities in their approach; relentless pressing, rapid counter-pressing and machine-like efficiency.

Yet in Diego Simeone, it is difficult to imagine an elite-level coach that contrasts with Guardiola quite so much. On Tuesday, we will see just how the styles match up.

It has been almost six years since a team coached by Guardiola went up against Simeone's Atletico Madrid, when Bayern Munich faced Los Colchoneros in the Champions League semi-finals.

Simeone triumphed on that occasion, albeit on away goals. Atleti went on to lose to city rivals Real Madrid in the final, while Guardiola has only been further in UEFA's competition once since then – last season, when City lost to Chelsea in the final in Porto.

Indeed, only three times in total have Simeone and Guardiola gone up against each other. Pep holds the edge in terms of wins (at least on the night), 2-1, with his Barcelona side seeing off Atleti 2-1 in LaLiga in February 2012, during his final season at Camp Nou.

Another two games will be added to that head-to-head record over the coming weeks in a Champions League quarter-final tie that represents a true clash of styles.

Possession obsession

Guardiola's death by a thousand cuts approach has yielded unprecedented success. City are a joy to watch at their best. Slick, swift, sublime. Everything you would associate with a team at the very top of the game.

As has been the case throughout his managerial career, Guardiola wants to dominate possession, control the opposition by simply not allowing them to have the ball and, if they do have it, then you can bet his team will win it back within seconds, or commit a timely foul (Fernandinho, anyone?).

Just taking this season into account, City average 66.9 per cent possession across all competitions, while they have attempted 30,155 passes, completing 27,067 (at an average of 601 successful passes per game).

Simeone is far less concerned with his side having the ball, but instead the focus is on staying compact and robust defensively, drawing a mistake – a stray pass, a heavy touch – out of the opposition and pouncing. And in relative terms, his approach has been just as successful.

Not that this is Simeone's approach across the board. Atleti have played some wonderful football during his tenure too, and had some sensational attacking players. Indeed, their current frontline options of Joao Felix, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa and Matheus Cunha is the envy of most teams.

Yet this season, Atleti average only 48.8 per cent possession across 41 matches. They have completed 14,533 passes, with 7,317 of these coming in the opponents' half. In comparison, City have registered almost 16,000 successful passes in opposition territory.

However, the difference is not so stark when it comes to balls played into the box, with City's 1,730 accounting for 11 per cent of their passes in the opposition half. That value jumps to 16.5 per cent for Atleti (1,209).

Simeone's men get a higher proportion of their passes in the other team's half into the area, though City have had 1,870 touches in the opposition box, with Atleti managing 964.

In the league alone, City have had 715 sequences involving 10 or more passes. In LaLiga, Atleti have had just 278.

City's possession does, of course, lead to shots – 837 of them this season in total. That dwarves Atleti's 490, though the Spanish side do have a better conversion rate (14.7 compared to 13.5).

Fierce off the ball

One similarity when it comes to Guardiola and Simeone is their desire to be aggressive in their approach to winning the ball back. While Guardiola's team will swarm an opposing player, Simeone's men will be tenacious and full-blooded.

So far this season, Atletico players have gone into 4,263 duels, while City have attempted 3,848. However, the success rate is closer, with the Spanish champions winning 52 per cent, and City 51.1.

Another major difference, however, is how City press.

In the Premier League, only Liverpool (354) and Brighton and Hove Albion (290) have forced more high turnovers than City (285), and Guardiola's side rank second when it comes to the average starting distance of their attacks from their own goal (45.1 metres).

When it comes to passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA), a measurement to quantify the extent and aggression of high presses, City rank joint-second, along with Liverpool, in the Premier League, with their 9.9 only bettered by Leeds United's 9.5.

Atleti's 207 high turnovers ranks ninth in LaLiga. However, their seven goals from direct attacks is joint-best in Spain's top tier. City have scored four times from such breaks this term.

Solidity comes first

This season, admittedly, Atleti have been unusually sloppy at the back, conceding 50 times and keeping 12 clean sheets, which is 17 more and 10 fewer than City, respectively.

Tracked over the previous five full seasons, however (since Guardiola joined City in 2016), only once have Atleti conceded more times than City, in 2018-19 (44 to 39).

Guardiola's teams take more risks in possession and City have made 42 errors leading to goals across his time at the club. It's been worth the pay off, but Simeone's more conservative approach has yielded just 21 such mistakes in the same timeframe.

Defensive grit is the bedrock of Simeone's success, and since the start of 2016-17, Atleti have kept 144 clean sheets. Yet, it is City who top the charts across Europe's top five leagues, with an outstanding 152.

Given City have scored 113 goals already this season – 41 more than Atleti – perhaps this quarter-final will not quite be as even as it might have been in seasons gone by, and it is the side from Manchester who must be considered favourites.

But, as proved with their clinical display at Old Trafford in the round of 16, Atleti still have the ability to frustrate and pick their moments to shine in attack. 

This is further evidenced by Atleti's LaLiga-leading expected goals (xG) differential of +8.5 this season. In stark contrast, City have scored 6.2 goals fewer than the quality of their opportunities would have suggested.

However the tie plays out, it is sure to be an enthralling tussle.

Related items

  • West Ham hero Jarrod Bowen says last-minute winner ‘best moment of my career’ West Ham hero Jarrod Bowen says last-minute winner ‘best moment of my career’

    Jarrod Bowen admitted scoring the winning goal in a European final was beyond his wildest dreams,

    Bowen’s last-minute strike secured a dramatic 2-1 victory for West Ham over Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final and ended their 43-year wait for a trophy.

    The 26-year-old winger raced on to Lucas Paqueta’s through-ball and slotted home to spark wild celebrations on the pitch, the touchline and in the stands.

    “I can’t sum it up, it’s the best feeling I’ve had in my career,” said Bowen.

    “When I went through I had a lot of time and it was just about making sure you put it in.

    “The keeper came out and I think I fell over, I looked up and the ball was going in and I thought ‘no, this isn’t happening’.

    “I spoke to my family before and said ‘imagine scoring a goal in the last minute’. To bring a trophy to this club is the best moment of my career.

    “The fans as well, seeing them after the game I was a bit lost for words. It’s the best feeling of my life, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d win a European trophy.

    “I’m so buzzing, all of us are just going to go mad I think. You have to celebrate.

    “When the final whistle went I just thought’ this party is going to be crazy. I’m just a little boy from Leominster who never thought I’d be talking like this. My family are crying and it just shows me how far I’ve come.”

    West Ham led through a Said Benrahma penalty on the hour but were immediately pegged back by Giacomo Bonaventura’s strike.

    But when Bowen raced through with a minute to go, boss David Moyes almost found himself going full Jose Mourinho.

    “The moment he went through I was edging down the touchline,” he said. “If it was going to be anyone, I thought ‘this is the moment’.

    “But I couldn’t do a full Mourinho knee slide as the grass was a bit dry and I’d have ended up on my belly.”

  • I thought I was going to cry – Jarrod Bowen emotional as West Ham win trophy I thought I was going to cry – Jarrod Bowen emotional as West Ham win trophy

    Jarrod Bowen was close to tears as he celebrated scoring the goal which won West Ham the Europa Conference League.

    Bowen raced on to Lucas Paqueta’s brilliant pass in the 90th minute and slotted past Pietro Terracciano to earn the Hammers a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina in Prague.

    It secured the club’s first piece of silverware since the 1980 FA Cup and their first European trophy since 1965.

    Bowen told BT Sport: “You always say you want to score in the last minute and to do it here in front of these fans, I thought I was going to cry.

    “I’m so happy. We haven’t had the best season, myself included, but to do it tonight, I’m over the moon.

    “I think in my position you make that run 10 times you might get that ball once. As soon as you get it you’ve got to put it away.”

    Bowen had earlier won the penalty from which Said Benrahma opened the scoring but Giacomo Bonaventura equalised just four minutes later for the Serie A side.

    But with the game appearing set to head to extra-time, Bowen struck his 13th goal of the campaign and earned West Ham a place in next season’s Europa League.

    The England international added: “Never (have I felt like this in my life). This is the biggest game of my career. The emotion, there was time for one more chance. I’m just so happy. I’m over the moon.

    “I’m thinking of the party tonight. Listen to it. Listen.”

  • Jarrod Bowen nets late goal as West Ham win Europa Conference League Jarrod Bowen nets late goal as West Ham win Europa Conference League

    Jarrod Bowen’s last-minute winner saw West Ham end their 43-year wait for a trophy with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final.

    The Hammers won a first piece of silverware since 1980’s FA Cup, and a first European trophy since 1965, on a historic and emotional night in Prague.

    Yes, it may be only Europe’s third-tier competition, the one treated as an unwanted distraction by Tottenham, among others, in its inaugural form last season.

    But this is West Ham. The West Ham who routinely see relegation as an occupational hazard. The West Ham who made a song and dance of leaving their old stadium and an almighty hash of moving into the new one. The West Ham who had to go begging to their former manager to save them from the drop, 18 months after they got rid of him when he had done just that.

    Just nine weeks ago that same manager watched as the away fans unfurled a ‘Moyes Out’ banner during a scratchy 1-0 win over Fulham, which likely saved his job.

    Now David Moyes has written his name in West Ham folklore, joining Ron Greenwood and John Lyall as trophy-winning Hammers managers. A place in next season’s Europa League means the club has qualified for Europe three campaigns in a row, for the first time.

    And what a way to sign off for Declan Rice, destined to leave this summer but with the legacy of becoming only the third captain, along with Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds, to lift silverware in the club’s 128-year history.

    The Hammers have given their fans, 5,000 of whom were – officially at least – in attendance and the 20,000-or so who just wanted to be in Prague for their first European final in 47 years, the ride of their lives.

    A campaign that began in August – three prime ministers ago – and has taken in trips to Denmark (twice), Belgium, Romania, Cyprus, Belgium again, and the Netherlands, finally culminated in a glory night in the Czech capital.

    West Ham’s supporters occupied at least two thirds of the Eden Arena and could have sold out the 20,000-seater stadium three times over, so it was a shame to see hundreds of empty seats in the Fiorentina end.

    Their travelling support has been almost exclusively good-natured throughout the campaign, so it was also a shame to see West Ham fans throwing missiles onto the pitch at Fiorentina players.

    They were mainly plastic pint cups, but just before half-time at least one more sinister object left Fiorentina captain Cristiano Biraghi with a nasty cut on the back of his head, forcing referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande to briefly halt play while a message over the PA system implored the fans to stop throwing missiles. A UEFA inquest will surely follow.

    At the next Fiorentina corner Christian Kouame’s header came back off a post and Luka Jovic prodded in the rebound, but to West Ham’s – and particularly goalkeeper Alphonse Areola’s – relief he was flagged offside.

    The Hammers occasionally threatened on the counter-attack in a predictably cagey first half, but Michail Antonio’s low shot was saved by Pietro Terracciano and an effort from Rice from Vladimir Coufal’s half-cleared throw bounced wide.

    Del Cerro Grande had frustrated West Ham with some strange decisions, but not even the eccentric Spanish referee could turn down their appeals for a penalty on the hour after checking the pitchside monitor.

    The ball clearly hit Biraghi’s hand after Bowen controlled it with his chest, and Said Benrahma tucked the spot-kick high into the net in front of the Hammers’ faithful.

    But Fiorentina equalised just four minutes later when Nicolas Gonzalez won a header and the ball fell for Giacomo Bonaventura to control and fire between Rice and Nayef Aguerd into the far corner.

    They almost immediately took the lead but Rolando Mandragora steered his shot wide from in front of goal.

    But West Ham regained their composure and Tomas Soucek, back at the home ground of his former club Slavia Prague, was twice denied by Terracciano.

    Then came the big moment. Lucas Paqueta’s through-ball finally caught out Fiorentina’s high line and there was Bowen, scampering clear and slotting past Terracciano.

    Cue bedlam on the pitch, on the touchline and in the stands. The wait was over and West Ham could finally celebrate some silverware.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.