Veronica Charlyn Corral struck with ten minutes remaining to bag a potentially pivotal away goal for the visitors, cancelling out Janine Beckie’s fifth goal of the season and hand Pablo Lopez Salgado's side an advantage to protect in the second leg.
The Canadian forward had struck on 13 minutes, netting her fourth goal in the tournament this term, following her treble against Lugano last time out, to put the Cup double winners seemingly within touching distance of the quarter-finals but Atletico's late rally ensured Nick Cushing’s side will travel to Madrid in a fortnight’s time with a tougher test to reach the last eight for the third time in four seasons.
With the two sides locking horns for the second successive season in the competition, City were fully aware of the threat their counterparts posed, having suffered elimination at the visitors’ hands at the Round of 32 stage last term.
It was the Manchester clash which secured Atletico’s progression in 2018/19, as the Spanish Champions triumphed 2-0 on English soil, having played out a 1-1 draw in the opening encounter.
They faced a different proposition this time out though with City in excellent form – on the back of a seven-game winning streak with 23 goals scored and just one conceded. Cushing’s side had also edged a five-goal thriller against the Spanish outfit on the pre-season Women’s International Champions Cup tour.
Cushing and co. had discussed learning from past experience in their quest for European glory but history would almost repeat inside on the four-minute mark when the away side sought to gain an early advantage – only to be thwarted by the resilient Ellie Roebuck.
The shot-stopper produced a terrific double save, denying Angela Sosa with a flying leap before tipping Elena Linari’s half-volley superbly onto the woodwork. Thankfully, Toni Duggan – gracing her former stomping ground – scooped the rebound over the crossbar.
Heeding the warning, City responded, forcing Sari Van Veenendaal into her first stop, as Beckie targeted the far corner. The Canadian would not be denied with her second attempt though, providing the perfect finish, after Keira Walsh’s through-ball was touched on by Caroline Weir.
With the lead, City calmed, looking to control possession without rushing or forcing opportunities. Lauren Hemp and Scott went close, firing wide, but the home side were content to dictate play at our own tempo.
The second half proved a tense affair of few chances. Needing the away goal, Atletico sought a quickfire leveller but Roebuck was alert to deny last season’s nemesis Ludmila da Silva, while Duggan blazed over from range.
Beckie then drilled straight at Van Veenendaal, as City pushed for a late second, but that would be the closest City came to a second and the visitors pushed for a crucial equaliser.
They found it courtesy of Corral, as she coolly slotted beyond Roebuck into the far corner to deliver the hammerblow, and in truth, matters could easily have been worsened as Ludmila drew another smart stop from Roebuck in the dying embers.
A game of few chances by City’s standards and the home side were undone with a late suckerpunch.
The hosts had looked to have done enough, limiting their opponents to equally few opportunities, by dominating possession.
Of course, a solitary goal in Madrid could prove enough to secure progression to the next stage but as Cushing warned, Madrid’s vocal and hostile home support may play a part in spoiling that plan.
Player of the Match
Having been beaten just once all season, Roebuck was unfortunate not to have ended the game on the winning side.
Once again, the shot-stopper produced a number of super stops and remained composed in possession.
There was nothing she could have done about the leveller but once again, she can take heart from her own display.
How we lined up
Shot-stopper Roebuck took her place in goal, shielded by a backline of Stokes, captain Steph Houghton, Gemma Bonner and Aoife Mannion, with Walsh protecting the back four. Weir and Jill Scott occupied the central midfield roles, flanked by Hemp and Beckie. Tessa Wullaert led the line upfront.
Yet another historic clash lurks on the horizon, as City lock horns once again with Manchester United in just the second professional women’s Manchester Derby – and the first on Red turf.
The two sides face off on Sunday 20 October at noon in the Continental Cup group stage.
City then travel to League Champions Arsenal a week later (Sunday 27 October at 2:30pm) before visiting Madrid for the European last 16 second leg on Wednesday 30 October (7:30pm local time).
Cushing’s side return to Academy Stadium action with the Conti Cup visit of Birmingham on Sunday 3 November at 2pm. Tickets for all home matches are available online or at the Etihad Stadium Ticket Office.