Klopp’s warning as Liverpool take perfect record to Madrid
There were smiles and lavish compliments, there were respect and admiration, but most candidly of all there was a stark warning.
Jurgen Klopp was full of life in the Wanda Metropolitano, as you might expect given the surroundings. He was perched in the same chair he sat in 262 days ago, when he gained entry into the exclusive club for Champions League winners, but this time his enthusiasm was for Diego Simeone.
Liverpool’s manager rattled off platitudes for Simeone as if they were going out of fashion, at one point referring to Atletico Madrid as a ‘results machine’ and himself as a ‘kindergarten cop’ in comparison to the Argentine.
‘He has been eight years and still has that emotion?’ Klopp remarked about the Atletico manager, with a pause for effect. ‘Wow! I’m only on level four… Diego is on level 12!’ Beneath the jovial veneer, though, Klopp was deadly serious about what is in store tonight at a stadium that Simeone says will be ‘ready to explode’ with desire.
Atletico pose a serious threat to Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions, so much so that the German feels his team are back on a tightrope.
One of the most remarkable statistics of Klopp’s reign is that Liverpool have not lost a two- legged European tie — their record is a perfect 10 from 10 in the Europa League and Champions League — but if the intensity drops for a second in the two games against Atletico, that perfect record will be turned to dust.
‘If there is a team where you have to be at your absolute best at all times, it’s Atletico,’ said Klopp, who is expected to name his strongest team.
‘They give no presents. Absolutely no presents. If you work as hard as possible, then you have a chance. If you don’t, then you don’t have a chance.
‘That’s why Atletico have often been in European finals. It shows how long they have been together, and now they’ve had to change. They’ve done that, brought in big potential, some experience. I see a team playing and, for me, it looks like a proper machine.
‘The moment 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 and concentrated in your own offensive play, you will not even have a shot on target because they close the centre so well.’
The message was repeated by Trent Alexander-Arnold, who woke yesterday to find that Cafu, the 2002 World Cup-winning Brazil captain who set the gold standard for the modern right back, had tipped him to win the Ballon d’Or.
‘Just because we have been to two finals, it doesn’t mean we are going to get there this year,’ said the England defender.
‘This is knockout football and things can happen. But we understand what it takes.
‘The experience we have had over the last two years means we know how to deal with certain situations. If we are not at 100 per cent, we will get punished. We have to be at 100 per cent, otherwise we will be out.’
Respect, however, should not be confused with trepidation. Liverpool have been to Kiev and Madrid to contest the last two finals for a reason and a return to Istanbul, and the potential to retain their title, is a huge motivation for a squad who are careering towards the domestic crown.
‘I don’t think they’ve played against a team like us — and we should not forget that,’ Klopp said. ‘We combine a few things. We are not badly organised, we play football, we respect different aspects of the game, our readiness to fight is exceptional. We don’t feel like the winners of last year’s tournament, we feel like contenders for this year’s, and we want to show that.
‘We want to be there in Istanbul if possible, and for that we know we have to work our socks off.’
It promises to be an intriguing collision between sides who last faced each other in the Europa League semi-finals in April 2010. Liverpool, back then, were a mess off the field, torn apart by internal fighting. Their squad had been broken up to pay off debts.
This group is going from strength to strength and their march has taken Simeone by surprise.
‘We have spoken about great teams throughout time,’ he said. ‘I have no doubt this Liverpool side are going down in history as a great team because they are different to teams we have admired.
‘Klopp has been improving them even since Coutinho left. It could have looked as if the team were breaking up, but on the contrary the team have become even stronger. That says a lot about the footballers who are still with Liverpool.’Daily Mail