Liverpool will go down as one of the best teams in history, according to Diego Simeone. One day, the Atlético Madrid manager suggested, Jurgen Klopp’s side will be talked about like Brazil in 1970, Dutch Total Football, or Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan – not least because he considers them more complete than those that came before.
Liverpool return to the stadium where they won their sixth European Cup eight months ago, unbeaten in a European knockout tie in three years, and 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak saying that “a team that virtually hasn’t lost in a year deserves to be favourites.” Yet while Simeone said that their impact will last beyond this season, he denied there was pessimism and insisted both teams have a 50% chance of going through.
“I have no doubt that that as we look back across all those years [of football] Liverpool will have their place in history, for certain,” Simeone said, entirely unprompted. “They have qualities, characteristics, that are different to all those teams we have admired: they’re much more direct, much more intense, have much more variety. I feel a great admiration for them.”
Simeone conceded that in terms of intensity, aggression and competitiveness, there were some parallels between his side and Klopp’s and said: “When you look at [Klopp’s] Borussia Dortmund, that team was similar to Liverpool. These are teams that reflect the characteristics of their coaches, but then the potential of the players obviously makes you play in different ways. I have no doubt that they will go down as a great team.”
The contrast is stark. Simeone has previously admitted that his team is in “transition”, although he has warned: “Anyone who thinks the word ‘transition’ means sitting in the sun, waiting for the flowers to bloom doesn’t know me.” Out of the Copa del Rey, eliminated by third division opposition, they are 13 points off the top in La Liga. It is their worst start since he took over. If the Champions League is their one chance of success, most have considered that small since the draw paired them with Liverpool.
Yet, asked what he had to say to those that consider Klopp’s overwhelming favourites, virtually ruling Atlético out, Simeone grinned. “Nothing,” he said. “What do you want me to say? It’s fine for everyone to expect whatever they imagine but the only thing that counts is the reality. All these words are for the preview. When the game starts, it’s a game, and in a game anything can happen.”
“The stadium will be alive and they will struggle, just as we will struggle when we go there. This is a two-legged game and over two legs there’s a 50% chance for both teams. There are no differences [between the teams]. I trust in my players – a lot. I don’t see pessimism; I see optimism, hope, a packed stadium with an incredible desire to play. We’re preparing with passion, with the right attitude, and I don’t see any pessimism.”