Manager says speed and variety of play are needed to break down an Atlético Madrid side who never raise the white flag
Jürgen Klopp’s “to-do” list for Liverpool on Wednesday includes playing with freedom, bravery and unpredictability against an Atlético Madrid team he considers the best in the world at “deep defending”. Should the European champions deliver once more, and the Liverpool manager admits his team must be “nearly perfect” to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, they will credit Premier League rivals for the ideal preparation.
Liverpool’s procession to their first league championship in 30 years, which could be claimed at Goodison Park on Monday should Manchester City lose against Arsenal or Burnley this week, has overcome a series of obstacles similar to what Diego Simeone will construct at Anfield, according to his opposite number. Lessons have been learned in recent weeks that can assist Klopp’s side as they look to stage another stirring Anfield comeback.
Klopp said: “Bournemouth plays football against each team they play but against us they shoot one long ball after the other and look for second balls. That is what West Ham did. Norwich? Against each team they play football. Against us? We know what it is like. It is like every game we have played since Atlético is a build-up for now – the pinnacle of these types of games. I am not saying they will hit every ball over our heads, it is just they are a real block to play against.
“Traditionally that is Diego Simeone with Atlético. A lot of people admire that and we have to fight against it. We need a result so we cannot worry about the situation that they are 1-0 up, so we have to win and they only have to counterattack. We need to be nearly perfect. That is how it is. We have to attack. We have to create. We have to protect like never before in our life and we have to interact and we need Anfield. That is the truth. But it is always like this.
“We played Napoli here at home last season when we had to win the group and we had to win 1-0. That was the most difficult challenge I have ever faced in my life. An Italian team and you need to win 1-0? How is that possible? We did it. I do not say it will happen because it happened before. I only say we should give it a proper try.”
Liverpool did not have a shot on target in the first leg, when Simeone’s team defended like the Simeone teams that reached the Champions League finals in 2014 and 2016 while carrying a threat on the break. “No shots on target sounds like we had no chances,” Klopp said. “That’s not the truth, we had good situations but we played a team that is probably the world’s best in deep defending. Atlético don’t go out with a white flag, they fight until the end. That is what we do. That’s why it’s so interesting.
“We need higher speed in different moments, better switches in different moments, braver football in different moments, we need to play around the formation, behind the formation, through the gaps. If you play predictable, Atlético’s defence will defend you for the next six months without a rest. Tomorrow we have to show we learned from the first game and that we really want to go through. And respecting it is possible we don’t go through. Because if you are afraid of going out, you cannot play with freedom and we need this freedom. We need to play free.”
Victory against Bournemouth on Saturday was important for Liverpool’s momentum following three defeats in four games, although another uncertain defensive display will have offered encouragement to Atlético. The return of the captain, Jordan Henderson, from injury is well timed, and Virgil van Dijk insists lessons have been learned from the first leg in Madrid three weeks ago.
“I think we got dragged in a little bit,” Van Dijk said. “And obviously that is the quality from them. They created chances, too. It could maybe have been 2-0 and we didn’t create much. But we know we have another 90‑plus minutes to make that right. We will try everything. Atlético will be tough, they are a fantastic side. They are one of the best in how they play. They are aggressive, together and they have fantastic players who can hurt you on the break too, so we have to have a fantastic night, all of us.”
Memories of Barcelona can spur Liverpool, along with what they felt were excessive celebrations by Atlético after the first leg, and Van Dijk admits a similar approach to the unforgettable semi-final comeback last season is needed.
“We couldn’t give any chances away against Barcelona, either. We will go with the same mindset as always. Hopefully win the game and play good football but first and foremost we have to deliver a lot of passion and hard work. We have to get everyone going from the first second to the last.”