Can Liverpool play their fluid attacking football at the den of Simeone’s brute and rugged Atletico Madrid?
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are going through a fairy-tale run in the Premier League having remained unbeaten in 26 games and amassing 76 points. What makes the journey more fascinating is that this side has hardly struggled and has churned out emphatic victories, more often than not, by remaining true to their distinct style of football.
It was during Klopp’s reign at Borussia Dortmund that the manager first implemented a dynamic football style that he would go on to call ‘Gegenpressing’- a German term which means counter-pressing.
“Think about the passes you have to make to get a player in a number 10 role into a position where he can play the genius pass,” Klopp explained.
“Gegenpressing lets you win back the ball nearer to the goal. It’s only one pass away from a really good opportunity. No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good Gegenpressing situation, and that’s why it’s so important.”
With Liverpool, the manager has taken the art to its zenith. If the front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah are weaving poetry in motion through their quick exchanges and clinical finishing, then the midfielders and the full-backs are doing their part in quickly closing down the opposition players in possession. It is no wonder that Liverpool are on the way to lift a Premier League title after almost 30 years.
But what happens when they come up against a side which believes in hunting down opponents with similar gusto and brute force? A team that is incredibly well organised at the back and believes in disrupting the very fluidity, that Liverpool boasts of, with constant niggling fouls.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid is a tough customer to deal with, especially at the Wanda Metropolitano. They are not known for their aesthetics, as Simeone is guided by a pragmatic approach of churning out results, come what may.
Backed by a stringent defensive line, coupled with Thomas Partey and Marcos Llorente in midfield, the Argentine coach has got the players who put his philosophy into practice week in and week out. The midfield duo has got an incredible work rate and are not afraid to put their bodies on the line. This will be key against Liverpool to keep a check on Roberto Firmino who often drops a few yards deeper to influence proceedings.
Moreover, both Partey and Llorente scored in their 2-2 draw against Valencia in the weekend which should come as a relief since Atletico’s forwards have not been in their best of form.
But the aspect that would please Simeone the most is the intensity with which they played at the Mestalla. If Atleti needs to challenge Liverpool, then they must bring out their old selves. The character that they showed when they won the league title at the Camp Nou back in 2014.
“I’m leaving Mestalla with good feelings because of the effort, work and pressing,” Simeone said after the match against Valencia.
It is difficult to beat Liverpool at their own game. Almost impossible, given the current form they are in.
But they have the second-best defensive record in La Liga which testifies that Simeone has managed to keep the fundamentals intact. He has been able to bring out the best from the youngsters like Renan Lodi, Mario Hermoso and with Jose Maria Gimenez who is back in contention for a starting berth. Now it remains to be seen if Klopp’s Gegenpressing has enough firepower to split open the Rojiblancos’ fortress.