When it comes to Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone, Jurgen Klopp wants to say the right things, but there is always the itch that scratches him.
Liverpool will once again play Atletico in the Champions League on Wednesday in a game that is more important to the Spaniards than the Reds.
Klopp’s side are already clear of the top five points in the group, which looked strange when they were drawn in August.
Atletico are in a scrap, four points ahead of Porto, who still have to play in the final round in Lisbon.
Theoretically, the pressure on Liverpool should be reduced and yet the fixture continues to find a way to annoy the German, push his buttons and react, which he later has to repeat or back down.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two sides in the last 18 months. Atletico claimed victory in a thrilling knockout tie last year after winning 1-0 at home, and 3-2 after extra time.
Liverpool then went on to win the same scoreline in Madrid last month, taking advantage of Anthony Griezmann’s red card and a penalty, which was scored by Mohamed Salah.
For the past decade, Klopp has been one of the game’s most charming characters and charismatic voices.
He is not a coach who tries to confront, either intentionally or intensely, as a technique to get the best out of the players. His jobs at Atletico feel out of harmony and out of character.
There are many, but the most notable is the loss at Anfield last year. Klopp told BT Sport, “I don’t think he is honest with the standard that he plays this kind of football. I don’t think so,” Klopp told BT Sport.
“When I look at players like Coke, Saul (Negus), (Marcos) Laurent – they could have played proper football but they stand deep and counter-attack. But they beat us like that.”
In the first round, Klopp replaced Sadio Mane, who was frustrated by Atletico’s attempts to send him away. “I was afraid his opponent would go down if he took a deep breath,” he said.
He finally took note of Atletico’s celebrations.
“I saw a lot of happy faces in their players and staff, but it didn’t end there,” Klopp said. He also seemed to be annoyed by Simon’s actions on the touchline.
“Wow, that’s energy,” he said. “I hope I can focus a little more on the other leg.”
After the win in Madrid, a smiling club sarcastically waved the tunnel down to Simeone, who usually avoids shaking hands with the other coach.
“I wanted to shake his hand and he was running,” he said. “I’m not too happy with my response to be honest.”
Klopp also maintained his more professional prowess, praising Atletico and Simeone generously, if not for their style, their achievements.
“Their teams are always well-organized, world-class, which makes them one of the best coaches,” he said ahead of the first meeting in 2020. “His defense was extraordinary,” he said.
And it has tried to smooth out previous comments when they reappeared. “I’m not the pope of football,” he said after the last match. “What difference does it make what I like?”
To fulfill their responsibilities with television companies, coaches need to speak within minutes of the last whistle. In some ways it’s incredible. Don’t make the mistake of diplomacy.
There is something about Atletico, though, that is at odds with Klopp, his beliefs about how the game should be played, and how he should win, are so different that the usual rules are forgotten.
Surprisingly, against Liverpool, other opponents did not try the same method as Atletico.
It is also ironic to find frustration with Atletico’s negative tactics, at a time when they are more open than ever under Simon.
Attempts to squeeze Antoine Griezmann, Joao Felix and Luis Suarez into the same team have been costly. “We are concerned about this and we are working on it,” Simon said last month.
Klopp’s impatience is probably a testament to Atletico, to the depths that Liverpool had to go to beat him and the battle they know they will face this week.
It is also a testament to the enthusiasm with which Klopp brings his players with his own beliefs and hard work.
But perhaps most of all, it’s a good drama, a healthy, ongoing disagreement between the game’s two greatest coaches on how to win.
“It’s not too bad,” Klopp said. “We’ll shake hands when we see each other.”