When it comes to Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone, Jurgen Klopp wants to say the right things, but he always scratches an itch.
On Wednesday, Liverpool will face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, in a match that is more important for the Spaniards than it is for the Reds.
Klopp’s side is already five points clear at the top of a group that appeared to be a stumbling block when the draw was made in August.
Atletico is locked in a four-point battle with Porto, whom they must face in the final round in Lisbon.
The burden on Liverpool should, in theory, be alleviated, but this fixture continues to upset the German, to push his buttons and elicit reactions that he subsequently has to rescind or disavow.
This will be the parties’ fourth meeting in the last 18 months. Last year, Atletico won a thrilling knockout tie after winning 1-0 at home and 3-2 away after extra time.
Last month, Liverpool beat Real Madrid by the same scoreline, thanks to a red card for Antoine Griezmann and a penalty from the blazing Mohamed Salah.
Klopp has been one of the game’s most endearing characters and dynamic voices over the past decade.
He isn’t a coach who uses conflict to elicit the finest performance from his players, whether it’s on purpose or out of desperation. His digs at Atletico are out of character and out of place.
There have been several, but the most famous was following last year’s loss at Anfield. “I don’t understand why they play this type of football with the quality they have to be honest. That is something I don’t understand “BT Sport quoted Klopp as saying.
“When I see guys like Koke, Saul (Niguez), and (Marcos) Llorente, I think they could play proper football, but they prefer to stay deep and attack on the counter. However, they consistently outperform us.”
Klopp replaced Sadio Mane in the first leg, fearful of Atletico’s attempts to have him sent off. He explained, “I was scared his opponent would collapse if he took a deep breath.”
Atletico’s celebrations at the finish were noted by him.
“I saw a lot of pleased expressions among their players and staff,” Klopp remarked, “but it’s not over yet.” Simeone’s actions on the sideline seemed to irritate him as well.
“Wow, that’s a lot of energy,” he exclaimed.
“In the second leg, I’m hoping to be a little more focused.”
After his team’s victory in Madrid, Klopp waved sarcastically down the tunnel at Simeone, who avoids shaking the other coach’s hand.
“I wanted to shake his hand, but he bolted,” he explained. “To be honest, I’m not very pleased with my reaction.”
Klopp has also stuck to his more professional impulses, lavishing praise on Atletico Madrid and Simeone, if not for their style, then for their accomplishments.
Before the first match in 2020, he said, “His teams are always well-organized, world-class, so that makes him one of the top coaches.” “Their defense was amazing,” he observed afterward.
When past comments have resurfaced, he has attempted to smooth them up. After the previous match, he stated, “I’m not the Pope of Football.” “Does it really matter what I like?”
Coaches are obligated to speak to television companies within minutes after the final whistle in order to meet their contractual responsibilities. In some ways, it’s incredible that more people don’t err on the side of diplomacy.
However, there is something about Atletico Madrid that irritates Klopp, their views on how the game should be played and won being so dissimilar to Klopp’s that the conventional rules appear to be ignored.
Other opponents have not attempted an Atletico-style strategy against Liverpool, which is maybe unexpected.
It’s also ironic to be frustrated with Atletico’s negative tactics now, when they’re more open than they’ve ever been under Simeone.
Trying to fit Antoine Griezmann, Joao Felix, and Luis Suarez into one team has cost them. Last month, Simeone remarked, “We’re concerned about it, and we’re working on it.”
Klopp’s impatience may be a compliment to Atletico Madrid, a reflection of the lengths to which Liverpool had to go to defeat them and the challenge they expect to encounter this week.
It’s also a reflection of Klopp’s zeal for his own ideals and the tenacity with which he rallies his teammates behind him.
But maybe most importantly, it’s excellent drama, a healthy, continuing debate between two of the game’s best coaches about how to win.
“It’s not too horrible,” Klopp added. “We’ll shake hands when we see each other.”