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Klopp's Simeone slights add extra edge to Atletico clash

China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-03 09:13
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Jurgen Klopp reacts during Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Brighton at Anfield on Saturday. [Photo/REUTERS]

MADRID-Jurgen Klopp wants to say the right things when it comes to Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone but there is always an itch he ends up scratching.

Liverpool plays Atletico again in the Champions League at Anfield on Wednesday in a game that this time carries more importance for the Spaniards than the Reds.

Klopp's team is already five points clear at the top of a group that looked awkward when the draw was made in August.

Atletico is in a scrap, level on four points with Porto, which it still has to play in Lisbon in the final round.

In theory, the pressure on Liverpool should be reduced and yet this fixture keeps finding a way to irritate Klopp, to push his buttons and draw reactions he later has to rephrase or retract.

This will be the fourth meeting between the sides in the past 18 months. Atletico claimed victory in a thrilling knockout tie last year after winning 1-0 at home, and 3-2 after extra-time away.

Liverpool then won by the same scoreline in Madrid last month, capitalizing on a red card for Antoine Griezmann and a penalty, scored by Mo Salah.

For the last decade, Klopp has been one of the game's most charming characters and charismatic voices.

He is not a coach that seeks confrontation, either deliberately or desperately, as a technique to get the best out of players. His jabs at Atletico feel out of sync and out of character.

There have been several slights, but the most notable came after the loss at Anfield last year. "I don't understand with the quality they have to be honest, that they play this kind of football. I don't understand that," Klopp told BT Sport.

"When I see players like Koke, Saul (Niguez), (Marcos) Llorente-they could play proper football but they stand deep and have counterattacks. But they beat us that's how it is."

In the first leg, Klopp substituted Sadio Mane, worried about Atletico's attempts to get him sent off. "I was afraid his opponent would go down if he took a deep breath," he said.

He noted Atletico's celebrations at the end. "I saw a lot of happy faces among their players and staff, but it's not over," said Klopp.

He also seemed irked by Simeone's antics on the touchline. "Wow, that's energy," the Reds boss said. "I hope I can be a little more focused in the second leg."

After winning in Madrid, a grinning Klopp sarcastically waved down the tunnel at Simeone, who habitually avoids shaking the other coach's hand.

"I wanted to shake his hand and he was running off," he said. "I'm also not overly happy with my reaction to be honest."

Klopp has also stayed true to his more professional instincts, offering generous praise of Atletico and Simeone, if not for their style, then their achievements.

"His teams is always well-organized, world-class, so that makes him one of the best coaches," he said before the first meeting in 2020.Afterward he said: "Its defense was exceptional."

And he has tried to smooth over previous comments when they have resurfaced. "I'm not the pope of football," he said after the last match. "What does it matter what I like?"

To fulfill their obligations with television companies, coaches are required to speak to media within minutes of the final whistle. In some ways, it is incredible more coaches do not stray from diplomacy.

There is something about Atletico, though, that wrangles with Klopp. Simeone's beliefs about how the game should be played, and won, are so different to his that the usual rules seem to get forgotten.

Considering Klopp's unease about playing Atletico, it is perhaps more surprising that other opponents have not tried a Simeone-like approach when facing Liverpool.

There is also an irony in finding frustration with Atletico's negative tactics now, at a time when the Spanish champion is more open than ever under Simeone.

Trying to squeeze Griezmann, Joao Felix and Luis Suarez into the same team has come at a cost.

"We are worried about it and we're working on it," Simeone said last month.

Klopp's impatience is perhaps a compliment to Atletico, to the depths Liverpool had to go to beat it and the battle the Reds know they will face this week.

It is an indication too of the fervor with which Klopp holds his own beliefs and the relentlessness that brings the German's players along with him.

But perhaps most of all, it is good drama, a healthy, ongoing disagreement between two of the game's greatest coaches about how best to win.

"It's not too bad," said Klopp. "When we see each other we'll shake hands."


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