Jurgen Klopp said on Monday he feels like “kindergarten cop” in comparison to the raging Diego Simeone but it will be Liverpool looking to make it a case of men against boys when they face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
“People say I am emotional but if I am level four, he is level 12. I am kindergarten cop compared to him,” Klopp told reporters in Madrid. “He has been there eight years and to still have that emotional level, that’s impressive.”
Klopp will face Simeone for the first time at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday and he paid tribute to the Argentinian while brushing off Atletico’s disappointing form that has them clear outsiders to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Atletico are fourth in La Liga, 13 points behind Real Madrid, and will be up against an irrepressible Liverpool side that is yet to lose in the Premier League and sits 25 points clear of the chasing pack.
“Playing Atletico is one of the most difficult things in the life of a football player, they are organised, a results machine,” said Klopp. “What they have done so far this season was not as bad as people say and it has nothing to do with our chances tomorrow. The team that fights more will go through, not the team that has done better in La Liga or the Premier League.”
Both coaches were keen to play up the closeness of the tie but Simeone’s claim the balance stands at “50/50” seemed optimistic. “Anything is possible,” Simeone said.
He confirmed Diego Costa could play a part after the striker’s timely recovery from a slipped disk while Alvaro Morata is likely to start after coming off the bench against Valencia on Friday.
Atletico are not the defensive force they once were and there is a debate in Spain over whether Simeone is the right man for the club moving forward. “Criticism is needed because it makes us improve,” Simeone said. “I only feel optimism and excitement.”
Atletico are looking to salvage their season, given they are adrift in the title race and already out of the Copa del Rey.
But Liverpool are still in contention for a treble and seeking to retain the trophy they lifted at the Wanda Metropolitano last June.
“The best players in the world want to get to finals and win trophies and so do the best teams,” said Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. “If we want to be known as one of the best teams in the world we have to be getting to those latter stages. We believe we can do it.”
Klopp signed off with a grin by insisting Paris Saint-Germain are the favourites to win the Champions League this season. “Now the pressure is on them!” he said. And Simeone was asked if preparing for this test reminded him of taking on the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid in their pomp in recent seasons.
“This Liverpool team will go down in history because it has different achievements to all those teams we have admired,” said Simeone. “They are a team with lots of options and I like that a lot.”
Klopp added: “Whatever happens Atletico are always there. If you are not 100 per cent concentrated, they close you down with two or three players and then counter-attack. If you are not focused, you won’t even have a shot on target. But on the other side, they also haven’t played against a team like us.”