Jack Grealish and Phil Foden incidents could be making of Man City in the Champions League

Pep Guardiola reviews Atletico Madrid Champions League tie

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Manchester City should send a note of thanks to Diego Simeone and his Atletico Madrid darkhearts for the experience they endured in the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday night.

Jack Grealish and Stefan Savic, Felipe and Phil Foden – forget bringing football into disrepute, scenes no-one wants to see etc, the chamber of horrors stadium tour in the Spanish capital could turn out to be a godsend for City. Coming through it might well turn out to be the making of them in Europe.

All-conquering teams have many common denominators – outstanding players, a smart manager and a driven environment – but they also need an unbreakable bond. It is only lived experience which can create this elusive intangible.

A team can play with all the technical excellence in the world and enjoy the strut built on swamping lesser teams but that sort of stuff is surface level. True kinship is established in tougher times; adversity is so often the solder. 

City faced that in Madrid. They were struggling to hang on in the second half, the control which is their hallmark gone. The wild dogs of Atletico – a sort of Spanish Leeds United under Don Revie only without the charm – were circling and the stadium was fervid. 

This was no beautiful game of the kind City so often paint – it was ugly, disfigured, brutal. Simeone’s devils took them down an badly-lit alley and readied their baseball bats. City could have broken but they found it within themselves to stay the course.

The mayhem of those final minutes will stay with those City players for a long time. Once they had made it down the tunnel and into the sanctity of the away dressing room they would have shared a very special few minutes.

In these times we should be careful with military comparisons. The Champions League quarter-final second leg, despite the add-ons, was still a football match but in purely football terms it morphed into unit combat. Surviving it intact was City’s band of brothers moment.

There may be short-term repercussions from it in terms of tomorrow’s FA Cup semifinal. The body count was high in Madrid and the night was draining physically and emotionally. Liverpool, with Jurgen Klopp shrewdly resting more than half of his first-choice team against Benfica, will be licking their lips in anticipation of the next mouthwatering instalment of Red versus Sky Blue.

But in terms of the scale of priorities, whatever Pep Guardiola says in public, City would happily trade the FA Cup for that elusive first Champions League trophy. 

It is Europe which is City’s Holy Grail, the one remaining box to tick under Guardiola, and they should be emboldened by the trial they have just passed. If they can survive that they can survive pretty much anything.

The tests to come – Real Madrid in the semifinal and almost certainly Liverpool in the final – will be radically different to Atletico – football matches rather than WWE – but everyone knows City can do the football part. What we – and more importantly the City players themselves – now know is that they have each other’s backs too.

It is easy to hit City with the accusation that they are a team of hired hands built with oil money – and with the exception of Phil Foden they are – but no team wins the biggest competition in European club football without a shaft of steel running through them. 

If City finally go on to win the Champions League this season, we can trace the night that was forged back to the furnace of the Wanda Metropolitano.

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