Simeone masterclass shows there is life in the old mad dog yet as Liverpool come up short
The anti-football accusations are already out in force but Atletico and Diego Simeone will not care one bit, as 'El Cholo' showed his knockout prowess once more to end Liverpool's Champions League dream.
Knockout football is the harshest of beasts and has made many in the pantheon of football managerial greats look all the more human, but not the big-stage firebrand that is Diego Simeone.
The Argentine has steered his Atletico side to two Champions League finals and one semi-final in the last six seasons. Such a record is, on the face of it, more impressive than ground-breaking, but when you consider Simeone has achieved this with Atletico Madrid, it becomes nothing short of extraordinary.
Up against Liverpool, sitting at the head of the Europe's top table, with just a slender 1-0 advantage from the first leg in their last-16 clash, many would have crumbled in the Anfield cauldron under the unrelenting pressure of the Liverpool juggernaut. Not Atleti, and certainly not Simeone.
“We accept it of course but it doesn’t feel right tonight. I am just a bad loser."
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Klopp reacting in this way will only add a extra few millimetres to Simeone's wry smile. Yes Atleti did their frustrating-a-superior-attacking-unit act to a tee, but they eventually came away from Anfield having netted three goals, away from home, against one of Europe's leanest defences. No bad for a side who play the football they play.
In normal circumstances, Simeone's record in knockout matches reads in binary such are the volume of ones and zeros, but this was not one of those nights, as the gameplan was executed to perfection.
The approach is simple, and often effective: get that lead and hang on to it. Ahead of their trip to Anfield Atleti had taken 26 first-leg leads over the eight years of Simeone’s time in charge and only ever surrendered one.
Atletico Madrid's Spanish midfielder Marcos Llorente celebrates with teammates after he scores his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions league Round of 16 second leg football match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, nort
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At Anfield, though, that record appeared to be under threat as Georginio Wijnaldum headed Liverpool into a first-half lead to break Atleti's early resistance, and the chances kept coming, and coming. Jan Oblak remained inspired, as Simeone's go-to general in all his battles always does, defying Liverpool time and again. The Atletico crossbar was rattled, the visitors were living dangerously, but Simeone remained unflustered.
Then came his masterstroke. With perennial pantomime villain Diego Costa struggling, Simeone decided it was time to hook his striker. With Alvaro Morata on the bench, the like-for-like change appeared obvious.
Instead, Simeone deployed Marcos Llorente to offer the element of surprise and energy. Once Atleti had dug in and got to extra time, there was only going to be one winner.
Robert Firmino's second for Liverpool only offered brief joy for the hosts, as 167 seconds later Llorente had his first ever Champions League goal, before his second made sure of another famous Simeone win.
Simeone y Klopp se saludan en el Liverpool-Atlético
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English football's most successful manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, for all his domestic dominance, won just two Champions Leagues in 27 years at Manchester United. One of the greatest tacticians ever, Pep Guardiola, has never reached the Champions League final with any other team than a Lionel Messi-fronted Barcelona.
This is no affront of either, this is the nature of knockout football. One man who has got the better of Guardiola in knockout football, by the tightest of margins, of course, is 'El Cholo' himself.
While Simeone may not be revered for years to come for a trophy haul of Ferguson's number or for having a similar influence on the modern game that Guardiola has had, when it comes to knockout matches against elite opponents, Simeone remains cream of the crop.