Ahead of a high-profile trip to Man United in the Premier League, Liverpool warmed up with a high-profile 3-2 win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League…
Diego Simeone isn’t the most complex of characters, but he is an unremittingly antagonistic one.
With such consistency of antisocial hostility, if ever a man was more perfectly suited to managing Chelsea, then I’ve yet to notice them.
Simeone rubs many observers up the wrong way, however I can’t help but admire the fella.
Besides, who are we, as Liverpool supporters, to suggest that there is a certain level of decorum that should be adhered to on the touchline by football managers?
Granted, running off down the tunnel at full-time after a loss, refusing to shake hands with his counterpart, and accentuating how large he considers his own testicles to be is a bit questionable, like.
Yet, despite these foibles, inclusive of sometimes striking the image of the living touchline embodiment of Alan Pardew, how can you not like a man who so comprehensively did David Beckham up like the proverbial small oily fish, with accompanying pat of butter.
What Simeone has done with Atletico Madrid is remarkable.
A big club they might be, but within a long-standing hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid, with Simeone’s side the only other LaLiga champions (twice at that) since a certain Rafa Benitez led Valencia to the title 17 years ago, then you must applaud what he has done with what once was one of European football’s most notoriously dysfunctional clubs.
Simeone has spent a decade in charge of a club that used to sack managers at a rate that Watford could only dream of, during the tumultuous presidency of Jesus Gil – a man who dispensed with 39 managers while he presided across a 16-year era in which Simeone was a double-winning player in 1995/96.
That particular success prompted Gil to take to the streets of Madrid in celebration, riding atop an elephant, only for Atletico to spectacularly hit the self-destruct button in sliding to an incredulous relegation just four years later.
Since his arrival in December 2011, Simeone has delivered two league titles, two Europa Leagues, one Copa del Rey, and various other trinkets, as well as having taken Atletico to two Champions League finals – one which they came to within seconds of winning, the other denied them in a penalty shootout.
It is a testament to the force of his personality, that when Simeone is brought up in most footballing conversations, the first thing people mention is that he’s quite the pantomime villain.
His achievements are either secondary or not even considered at all.
What is comforting about Simeone is that you know exactly what you are going to be getting yourself into: a street fight that does not employ the Marquess of Queensbury rules. There is a guarantee of rancour.
We now have a fortnight in which to prepare for the rematch, during which our next task is a sedate trip to Old Trafford, where the threat to harmony could be as likely to come from protests outside the ground as it is from Man United’s players on the pitch.
Liverpool simultaneously dealt well and badly with the challenge handed to them at the Wanda Metropolitano, the venue that will always be ‘number six’.
Only one change was made by Jurgen Klopp to the team that deconstructed Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday. Alisson returned for Caoimhin Kelleher, and Liverpool shot into an early 2-0 lead that in itself felt unsettling.
This was all a little too simple, and even Luis Suarez had only been named on the bench. It felt like an ambush was awaiting around some shadowy unconsidered corner, one of those occasions where the silence is as scary as the altercation.
Sure enough, by half-time the scoreline was 2-2, and had it not been for the agility of Alisson, then we would have been trailing at the interval.
This was football within the style of ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Haglar and Thomas ‘The Hitman’ Hearns swinging haymakers at one another in the centre of the ring, until one or the other fell over.
For readers of a younger hue, think Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder.
Ambition, style and determination were joined in the mix by a lack of defensive discipline and midfield fortitude. An open-door policy was in full swing and both teams took advantage.
Mohamed Salah continued to operate as if filming a footballing version of The Matrix, and Antoine Griezmann suddenly remembered he was Antoine Griezmann.
Salah went on another mad one to procure the opening goal, a goal that was at one point apportioned to James Milner, while Naby Keita hit a spectacular second, on an evening when he struggled generally.
Our Naby was hooked at half-time, to be replaced by the surprisingly omitted Fabinho. He will have infinitely better games on days when he doesn’t make the scoresheet.
It’s fair to say that he doesn’t do tap-ins, does our Naby.
It was almost as if Liverpool’s players were knocked into a stunned stasis, glancing around at one another for reassurance that this was actually correct and permissible. Where was the expected bludgeoning assault?
Oh, here it is…xB we could class it as. Expected bludgeoning.
A dirty win is how Klopp embraced it. The perfect synopsis. And he is absolutely correct that dirty wins can be therapeutic.
It will rankle with Simeone and Atletico, so much so that they might well come to Anfield in two weeks’ time with a red mist descending, which could be their undoing.
Griezmann’s red card, early in the second half, altered the landscape – but only marginally. Still Atletico came, in search of a winner, rather than sitting back to accept one point.
Diogo Jota was brought into play, from where he gained and almost gave away a penalty. Salah dispatched, while VAR spared us the concept of Suarez equalising.
Three games and three wins from the 2021/22 Champions League group of death, one point from our remaining three likely sees us through.
There is a good chance we would still go through to the knockout stages even if we lost our three remaining games, gifted as we are with a five-point lead and a set of opponents that will probably insist upon taking points from one another.
Our trip to the Wanda Metropolitano was of huge value in terms of our Champions League campaign, but it was also the perfect dress rehearsal for Sunday.
Another encounter that will undoubtedly throw out many varying shapes; another game in which Klopp’s opposite number will be hoping to utilise the pantomime of the occasion.
We stomped our way through Simeone’s minefield, and emerged with a WandaVision.
While you’re here…my trilogy ending book on the glory days of the European Cup is now available to purchase. You’d be mad not to indulge.