ANYONE who really loves football must be praying for Manchester City to prevail in next week’s Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid.

For it is hard to think of a more joyless, negative and downright soul-sapping team than the Spanish champions.

Diego Simeone fielded an incredibly defensive starting XI against Man City in midweek


Diego Simeone fielded an incredibly defensive starting XI against Man City in midweekCredit: Getty
Atletico played joyless, soul-sapping football


Atletico played joyless, soul-sapping footballCredit: Rex

Their utter lack of ambition in the first leg of their quarter-final tie at the Etihad the other night was an affront to a competition which is supposed to be the pinnacle of club football.

They set up in a 5-5-0 formation, didn’t have a single shot and made no attempt to hide their intention of frustrating City at every turn.

Back in the day, ex-Stoke boss Alan Durban infamously sneered: “If you want entertainment, you should go to the  circus and watch a bunch of clowns.”

He would have loved Diego Simeone, the Atletico coach who revels in his role as pantomime villain.

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For it seems that nothing gives Simeone more pleasure than upsetting the purists with his soccer cynicism.

Doubtless there will be some people who found Tuesday’s clash of cultures to be a fascinating tactical battle between two coaching grandmasters.

So, yes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. And who is to say that Pep Guardiola’s philosophy is any more effective than Simeone’s?

His approach clearly works, as proved by the fact that they won LaLiga last year and have knocked AC Milan, Porto and Manchester United out of this season’s Champions League.


Now they are looking to extend their run by overturning a 1-0 deficit against City at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday.

But they will have to cross the halfway line if they’re going to achieve that ambition. And that’s a risk which clearly terrifies Simeone if this week’s game was anything to go by.

Atletico’s approach was the polar opposite of their neighbours Real, who now have one foot in the semis after ripping Chelsea apart with their bold attacking play.

Wednesday’s game at Stamford Bridge was everything the Champions League is supposed to be about, a celebration of the world’s finest players going toe-to-toe.

The previous evening at the Etihad, it was simply one team trying to engage with the paying audience and the other looking to suck the very life out of proceedings.

In some ways, it’s difficult not to have a degree of grudging admiration for someone so cussedly awkward as Simeone.

But he has taken his anti-football to unacceptable levels and for the good of the game City need to deliver his comeuppance next week.

No trust for Tino

FIFA has taken the highly unusual step of issuing an official statement to deny rumours matches at this year’s World Cup finals will last 100 minutes.

It was Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport who reported Fifa chairman Gianni Infantino was looking to extend games because the ball spends so long out of play.

And clearly that touched a nerve, as the game’s governing body doesn’t usually react so swiftly to these stories.

But that suggestion only gained traction as, with this lot, absolutely nothing can be ruled out.

So when Infantino pretends there were never any plans to stage the World Cup every two years, all of football is sceptical.

Particularly when he then floats the idea of holding it every three years.

So please excuse our suspicious minds. Because some people in charge at Fifa can’t be trusted as far as they can be thrown.

Gianni Infantino isn't changing the length of World Cup games... yet


Gianni Infantino isn’t changing the length of World Cup games… yetCredit: Getty

Can this Dan ban

IT has been suggested that Wimbledon plan to ban Daniil Medvedev unless he denounces Vladimir Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I have no problem with barring all Russians from competing in international sport because we need to drive the message home to Moscow that they are the pariahs of the world.

But it is wrong to put pressure on individual athletes to make political statements which could jeopardise their family and friends back home.

Medvedev might well be appalled by the behaviour of his country’s government, just as many Brits are disgusted with ours.

The difference is that no one is going to be drinking polonium tea if they have a pop at Boris.

Daniil Medvedev shouldn't have to put his family at risk to play at Wimbledon


Daniil Medvedev shouldn’t have to put his family at risk to play at WimbledonCredit: AP

Not exactly subtle

YORKSHIRE CCC are looking to draw a veil over their racism issues by signing a sponsorship deal with an Indian firm called Clean Slate.

Have you seen what they’ve done there? Subtle as a flying brick.

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Cashing out

ROMAN ABRAMOVICH has apparently been tapping up his Hollywood mates for a loan to help him pay his staff while he is under sanctions due to his ties to Vladimir Putin.

If only Chelsea’s Russian owner knew a whole bunch of young multi-millionaires with access to ready cash to tide him over.

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