Liverpool’s Champions League return to the Spanish capital this Tuesday will see two of Europe’s heavyweight coaches clash for the very first time in a competitive setting.

The last 16 tie takes place at a time when Jurgen Klopp’s stock has risen to almost unprecedented heights while Diego Simeone’s has fallen to depths not previously seen during his eight year tenure as manager of Atletico Madrid.

Despite football philosophies that could scarcely be more different, there are many similarities between the Liverpool and Atletico Madrid bosses. Both men have intense, bordering on obsessive approaches to their respective jobs and their touchline antics should ensure that there is plenty of action off the pitch, even if this week’s first leg does descend into the kind of cagey affair that has become typical of Atleti games in the competition.

Simeone is a known admirer of Klopp’s work and coaching style. In an interview with Spanish radio station Cadena Ser earlier this season, long before the two clubs were paired together in Europe, the Argentine was quick to praise the Liverpool manager.

"A coach I admire? Jurgen Klopp. No doubt” Simeone stated. "He had to lose things and also win beautiful things, but always with the same style. I see him close to his players."

It’s clear that Simeone sees a little bit of himself in the German. The Atleti coach has exceeded all expectations since he took over the reigns at a time of crisis in December 2011. He has since won every major trophy in Spain and Europe, bar this one.

The pain of agonising Champions League final defeats to city rivals Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016 lives on for everyone connected with Los Rojiblancos. The dream of emulating Jurgen Klopp, who was twice a losing finalist before he finally got his hands on the trophy last year, is clearly something which continues to motivate the man Atleti fans simply refer to as ‘El Cholo’.

However, on the surface at least, Simeone’s Atleti have never entered the Champions League knockout stage with a lesser chance of going all the way. Even within Spain, the prospect of them even reaching the quarter-finals has already largely been written off after they got the draw that nobody in Europe wanted.

A two-legged tie against the defending champions and European football’s undisputed form team would have been exactly the kind of challenge Atletico Madrid would have relished had the year been 2014, 2015 or 2016. However heading into their clash with Liverpool, this current Atleti team is looking out of sorts and a shadow of the side that came so close to being crowned kings of Europe in the mid 2010s.

In part, that should not come as a surprise. Sweeping personnel changes took place last summer as the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin, Juanfran and Filipe Luis all left the club. All four started the 2016 Champions League final in Milan and left behind big holes which were never going to be easy to fill.

While the coach and his long-serving assistant Mono Burgos remain, only two members of Atleti’s 18-man squad from the 2014 final in Lisbon are still at the club today. Essentially, Simeone has been faced with the difficult task of building an almost entirely new squad whilst trying to hold onto the identity of old.

That task has proved harder than even he might have anticipated. This is no longer an Atletico Madrid team that clearly mirrors its manager. That ‘do or die’ fighting spirit which helped seal an unexpected Spanish title six years ago is much less evident now. There is no Gabi or Godin left to lead the side into battle and with results on the decline, fingers are starting to be pointed at the coach.

Atletico Madrid head into Tuesday’s showdown with the Reds having won just one of their last seven competitive fixtures. It’s a downturn in form that has seen Atleti fall well out of the Spanish title race and briefly out of the top four. An embarrassing Copa del Rey exit at third tier Cultural Leonesa was followed immediately by a dour 0-0 home draw against La Liga strugglers Leganes. It was a result and performance which ended with small sections of the Atleti faithful directing whistles and jeers at their uncharacteristically subdued coach.

Simeone has thicker skin than most and while the majority of Atleti supporters continue to idolise him, his status as the right man to lead the club forward has never been in greater doubt.

His critics claim his unwillingness or perhaps inability to adapt his tactics has resulted in a host of creative players coming into the club but failing to live up to their potential. Current examples can be found in the shape of Thomas Lemar and Joao Felix. Despite a combined spend on the two players of in excess of £160million, neither has come anywhere close to living up to the hype that surrounded their initial arrivals.

While Atleti have also recouped a significant amount of money in player sales over the past twelve months, that kind of purchasing power propels them to a level that only the elite clubs around Europe can match. The inevitable result of that is raised expectation levels.

While their status as one of those top clubs is hugely indebted to the hard work of Simeone, Atleti’s newfound financial muscle means that the top three of La Liga and the latter stages of the Champions League is precisely where they should be.

The argument that the Madrid club are punching above their weight just by being involved in these big European ties no longer washes with people. While there is not a realistic expectation that Atletico defeat Liverpool over two legs, there is a genuine pressure on Simeone to prove he has not been left behind by the likes of Klopp and is still worthy of his place on Europe’s top managerial table.

While he may have good reason to look at the Liverpool manager’s squad with a degree of envy, there are other areas where Simeone has nothing to be jealous about.

The Atleti boss is after all the best paid manager in world football, taking home a staggering €3.6million (approximately £3million) per month according to a report by French newspaper L’Equipe earlier this month. Remarkably that is reportedly more than double what Klopp earns, even after his recent contract extension.

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Over the last twelve months at least, there can be little question as to which man is doing more to justify his paycheck. It’s another factor which goes some way to explaining why Simeone is no longer viewed as infallible in the red and white half of Madrid and while Atletico are rightly seen as the clear underdogs heading into this tie, it is by no means a ‘nothing to lose’ scenario for their manager.

A victory over two legs against Klopp’s seemingly unstoppable Liverpool would certainly help to justify that astronomical salary, whilst silencing a few critics. It would also firmly reinstate Simeone’s status as one of European football’s top managers, if he ever truly fell from that list.

A heavy defeat though would provide fresh ammunition for those with an axe to grind with the Argentine, whose style of football has never been to everyone’s taste. Depending on the manner of that loss, it may even bear all the hallmarks of the end of an era for Atletico and possibly the beginning of the end for Simeone’s time at the club.

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Mark Sochon is a football writer based in Madrid, covering Spanish football for La Liga Expert.