Best of enemies? Jurgen Klopp and Frank Lampard’s needle is just what the Premier League needs
Back in 2016, German broadcaster Sport1 planned to have a camera fixed solely on Jurgen Klopp for when he returned to Borussia Dortmund with his new Liverpool team in the Europa League.
Klopp was remarkably unimpressed. ‘If it is true,’ he said, ‘I have to think about whether I will really talk with this television station in my life again. I’m pretty sure I will not, if I don’t have to.’
The plan was duly scrapped but on Sunday, when Klopp resumes hostilities with Chelsea boss Frank Lampard, Sky Sports would be reckless not to have a camera pointed on the touchline at Stamford Bridge because, once again, it feels like fireworks could be in the offing between the two managers.
Klopp v Lampard is fast becoming the Premier League’s biggest managerial grudge match and after years of diplomacy between the Liverpool boss, Pep Guardiola and various other big-name managers who have graced the Premier League, a little bit of needle is welcome.
It is something that has been missing in recent years. These days, Jose Mourinho seems to turn more on his own team than rivals – his bickering with Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez feels more and more like a thing of the past. And mentions of Benitez inevitably conjures reminders of his various exchanges with Sir Alex Ferguson.
The flashpoint that ignited the rivalry between Klopp and Lampard was when the Chelsea manager lost his temper in his side’s 5-3 defeat at Anfield last season.
He was furious not only with a foul being awarded when Sadio Mane went down outside the area but also with the protestations from the Liverpool bench. His ensuing expletive-ridden tirade at Klopp and his coaching staff is perhaps just as memorable as anything that happened in a gripping encounter back in July.
‘It’s not a f***ing foul,’ yelled Lampard, before his temper rose at Klopp for telling him to ‘calm down’, a comment which is a red rag to a bull for anyone who as fired up as Lampard was at the time.
‘You can f*** off and all,’ Lampard shouted. ‘Only title you’ve ever won and you think you can give it the big one, f*** off.’
Salt was rubbed into Lampard’s wounds when Trent Alexander-Arnold then whipped the free-kick past Kepa Arrizabalaga to double Liverpool’s lead on the night. After the final whistle, Lampard underlined how his issue was not with Klopp but his coaching staff, warning them not to get arrogant with their success.
Days later, when asked to revisit the row in the far more tranquil surroundings of a press conference over Zoom, Lampard admitted he regretted that the exchange was caught on camera because his daughters would likely see it on the internet.
‘In terms of the language I used, I do regret that,’ he said. ‘These things get played a lot on social media. I have two young daughters on social media, but in terms of my passion to defend my team, then no [regrets].
‘I would have had a beer with Jurgen Klopp to toast their success. There were things I didn’t like from their bench, not Jurgen Klopp, but their bench. Emotions run high in this game.’
But Klopp’s retort was aimed at Lampard and only Lampard, telling him to remember that when the referee blows the final whistle, any feuds are over.
‘Frank was in a really competitive mood and I respect that a lot,’ Klopp said. ‘You can pretty much, from my point of view, say what you want in a situation like that. For me, it’s after the game. It’s completely over. I have said a lot in the past because it is pure emotion. He came here to win the game or get a point to make sure of Champions League qualification. I respect that a lot.
‘But what he has to learn is to finish it with the final whistle and he didn’t do that. Speaking after it like this is not OK. Frank has to learn. He has a lot of time to learn, he is a young coach. But he has to learn. During a game words are used – no problem at all. But at the final whistle, all the things he said… we are not arrogant. We are pretty much the opposite of arrogant in a moment like this.’
Two months later, and the sensitive point has shifted from arrogance to the cost of a squad. Liverpool have sat quietly with what they have in the present transfer window as they assess the financial impact of Covid-19 – the only addition coming in Greek left-back Kostas Tsimikas.
But in west London, Lampard has been splashing the cash. Timo Werner – who Liverpool were strongly linked with before the coronavirus pandemic – has joined alongside Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva, while goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is expected to follow from Rennes to take Chelsea’s spending to over £200m.
‘We live in a world at the moment with a lot of uncertainty,’ Klopp told BBC Radio 5 Live. ‘For some clubs it seems less important how uncertain the future is. Owned by countries, owned by oligarchs, that’s the truth. We are a different kind of club. We got to the Champions League final two years ago, we won it last year.
‘We became Premier League champions last season by being the club we are. We cannot change it overnight and say: “Now we want to behave like Chelsea”. They are signing a lot of players. That can be an advantage, but that means they have to fit together.
‘You cannot bring in the 11 best players in the world and just hope a week later they play the best football. It’s about working on the training ground. That will probably be an advantage for us. We’ve worked quite a while with each other.’
Lampard, of course, hit back: ‘I was less annoyed with it, I found it slightly amusing,’ he said ‘You can go through the Liverpool players — Van Dijk, Alisson, Fabinho, Keita, Mane, Salah. Incredible players that came at a very high price. Liverpool have done it over a period of time.
‘What we have done is come off the back of a ban and probably try to address the situation to help improve us. We know that Liverpool have spent at a high level. We know they have an incredible coach. We know they have incredible players. The really smart thing Liverpool have done is believe in their coach and believe in their system for a number of years. It’s a great story but it’s a story where they’ve spent money on players.’
And so to Stamford Bridge this weekend. There are a number of sub-plots that will fan the flames for Sunday’s match. Liverpool’s defence was uncharacteristically slack in the 4-3 win over Leeds on Saturday and they will need a rapid improvement before facing messrs Werner, Pulisic and Ziyech. That time on the training pitch Klopp has mentioned will be vital.
There are also parallels to how Liverpool started last season. They also beat a Premier League newcomer – then Norwich – at home with a display that set off a few alarm bells with a some haphazard moments at the back.
They played Chelsea straight after, albeit in the Super Cup rather than the league, and were taken to penalties after a 2-2 draw, emerging victorious 5-4 from the spot. A month later, Liverpool ran out 2-1 winners in the Premier League in London.
Lampard tasted victory over Liverpool back in March with Chelsea defeating Klopp’s men 2-0 in an entertaining FA Cup tie – one of the final games before lockdown brought a pause to the season.
Lampard has every reason to view this game as a marker. Yes, his team will still be gelling after a busy summer but he knows the expectation at Chelsea this season is to finish higher than fourth and, if not above them, then far closer to Liverpool than the 33 points that split them last season.
And the closer they get to each other, the tenser you feel their rivalry could become. Long may that be the case.
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