Jurgen Klopp is very much looking forward to the prospect of coming up against one of the great managerial minds in Europe as the German boss prepares for a battle of wits against Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone when Liverpool return to the Spanish capital on Tuesday.
The European champions once again begin the defence of their UCL crown at the same venue they became continental kings for a sixth time 261 days ago. However, rather than Tottenham Hotspur, it will indeed be the Atletico waiting for the competition holders with a raucous and fiery Simeone looking to spoil the party.
Surprisingly it is the first meeting of two of the great footballing minds this century as Klopp and Simeone begin their inaugural battle on Europe’s biggest stage.
Klopp, the reigning FIFA Coach of the Year, was full of praise for his managerial counterpart and was keen to point out the emotionally charged behaviour of his opposite number on the sidelines as he praised the Los Rojiblancos boss for his outstanding work over the last eight years.
“People say I emotional on the sideline,” Klopp said. “I am only on level 4, Diego is level 12! Really I am the kindergarten cop against him!
“He is so impressive after all these years, after so many years at the club – eight years. That is really long and having still this emotional level, still, wow. So impressive. I say, his teams are always organised [to a] world-class [standard].
“That makes him one of the best and we met once or twice, exchanged some messages after big defeats or wins and tomorrow, in a really competitive game, we meet for the first time, it will be interesting. Absolutely interesting.”
Klopp’s Premier League champions-elect head into the UCL bout the only remaining unbeaten domestic outfit in Europe’s top-five leagues whilst they will come up against an Atleti side who are struggling somewhat in La Liga, having netted just 25 goals in 24 games in Spain’s top flight.
However, Klopp is very-much aware of the defensive steel that still exists amongst the Spanish heavyweights with Simeone’s team leaking just 15 goals in the league this season. The former Borussia Dortmund head-coach knows that Atletico’s teak-tough rearguard will be difficult to breach as the Reds set their sights on a third consecutive UCL final in Istanbul come May.
“That helps obviously but it doesn’t deny someone a career in football [management] if they are not. The biggest difference? I don’t know, we don’t know each other that good, I only see his team’s style of football and I like good organisation as well.
“We play different systems, while ago, we maybe played 4-4-2. I saw them now four times and I didn’t think about the differences between us. We don’t play against each other, which is very good news.
“That is football, he has had eight years here, seven years probably more successful than Atletico was for maybe 50 years? I don’t know the full story of Atletico. That is tough, you have to change to the team, you lose Diego Godin, you lose [Antoine] Griezmann, Gabi, maybe even a year before.
“You have to get new players, get them used to it and that takes time but people don’t give you it. Looks like they have qualified for the Champions League again, which would be incredible in a transition year and then next year they will be in the right direction again.
“Other than that, it is normal. I don’t think Atletico Madrid are too concerned about [critics]. It is still too good.”
What RTK has to say
A true battle of managerial wits as two of the most iconic minds in Europe prepare to face off for the first time in their individual careers.
Simeone is notoriously known for his tactical nous and defensive approach when lining up his troops for battle. Only Real Madrid and Juventus have gotten the better of the Argentine boss over the previous six years in the UCL with Atletico still searching for their first triumph in the competition.
Atletico conceded just five goals in six European matches this season as the Spanish outlet progressed from a difficult group that also contained Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen and FC Lokomotiv Moskva