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Why Atletico‘s’ success against Liverpool WAS a Simeone masterclass

  /  autty

Jordi Cruyff knows a thing or two about 'proper' football. He was a more than decent player himself, and his dad… well his dad could have gone to the Patent Office in the mid-seventies as a player, or the early-nineties as a coach, and they would have given him exclusive intellectual property rights on the beautiful game.

That's why Cruyff Jnr's Monday morning column in Diario Sport was the perfect riposte to the following Michael Owen tweet last week: 'Please spare me all this inevitable [Diego] Simeone masterclass nonsense. There's nothing genius about putting 11 top class footballers behind the ball.'

Jordi Cruyff wrote on Monday: 'I'm surprised by the noise generated by Liverpool's elimination. I understand the frustration because they were by far the better team at Anfield and no one would have been surprised if they had won 3-0 but I don't share this effort to condemn Atletico.

'When a team like Liverpool is so on top of you there is no alternative but to defend with all you have.

'And if there is a team capable of summoning all their character and discipline to eek out this sort of result then it is Atletico.

'They have a bomb-proof mental strength to cope with the sort of siege they were under against a Liverpool side who have dominated all the facets of the modern game. Every team needs its own DNA, the fighting spirit of Atletico Madrid is theirs and it's perfectly embodied by Simeone.'

Of course not only does Simeone embody that DNA, it feels sometimes as though he invented it. He also doesn't just thump his fist down in the dressing room before the game and tell his players run themselves into the ground – he gives them a gameplan that they know can work.

He knew last week that if Atletico Madrid repeated the performance that Barcelona served up at Anfield 12 months earlier then they would be heading out of the tournament.

Had they granted Liverpool the same amount of space both in front of and behind their defence then they would be beaten. They defended deep but also counter-attacked intelligently. They scored three at Anfield, not bad for a team who some suggested never stepped out of their area.

Kieran Trippier, the England full-back thriving under Simeone at Atletico, told the Mirror :'If you go there and go toe-to-toe with Liverpool, you're going to get beat 6-0. I don't know what people expect.

'You see pundits complaining because we did defend, but did they expect us to go there and play attacking football, especially with Liverpool playing the way that they’re playing at the moment?

'You need to go there with a plan and we did that. We did have to defend, but the most important thing is that we got the win.'

Simeone's team selections were spot-on too. He knew he did not have the luxury of the Liverpool front three who would comfortably raise £300million in today's market.

Atletico have the 20-year-old Joao Felix, who is hugely talented but was massively over-priced at €127m (£115m) when signed last summer and the hard-working but ordinary Angel Correa. Simeone knew he had two more forwards – but both half fit.

Diego Costa is a shadow of his former self but Simeone used him cleverly knowing he would help frustrate and antagonise in the first half at Anfield. He did exactly that before coming off in a strop in the second period.

Alvaro Morata was another who did not have 90 minutes in him. Simeone played that card late-on knowing that even at 50 per cent fit the former Chelsea forward could run in behind Liverpool who at this point would be leaving more and more space as they chased the game.

Both Costa early and Morata late worked. Costa was of course not replaced by Morata. When he went off it was midfielder Marcos Llorente who came on. A holding midfielder by trade Simeone has spotted something different in the 25-year-old.

He likes his ability to get up and down the pitch, the long-strided forward bursts, occasionally topped off with impressive finishes. 'You thought Llorente for Costa was a defensive change, it wasn't,' he said post-game, and he was right.

'Atletico plays with the weapons it has, and it plays to win,' Simeone said when asked about Klopp's comment. The Liverpool manager had said: 'I don't understand with this quality they have why they play this type of football.'

Atletico don't have the quality that Liverpool have and that's the point. Even defensively, it's Liverpool and not Atletico who have arguably the best two full-backs and the best centre-back in the world at the moment.

But Atletico do have the best shot-stopping goalkeeper in the world however and Simeone was right again when he said that just as Lionel Messi wins matches for Barcelona so Oblak wins them for Atletico.

And to say the win over Liverpool is worthless because it was all about Oblak, carries about as much logic as saying a Barcelona success doesn't mean a thing if it has been all about Messi.

Simeone deserves the huge credit Cruyff was giving him in Monday's sport press.

The old 'anyone can play that way' line Owen used last week has never been true. Not anyone can. Atletico do it better than anyone else and Simeone is the reason why.