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If Chelsea and Liverpool battle like their managers, Lampard and Klopp, the Premier League is in for a treat

If Chelsea and Liverpool battle like their managers, Lampard and Klopp, the Premier League is in for a treat

Frank Lampard and Jurgen Klopp have been on a collision course long before Sunday’s Premier League meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool. There are few benefits to fans being exiled from stadiums as the coronavirus pandemic continues, but one of them is the touchline exchanges hitherto the preserve of lip readers and rumour mongers, now being audible to all.

Lampard and Klopp were captured in heated dialogue at Anfield on the late July night when the Blues’ head coach bristled at having to play a supporting role in the story of Liverpool’s first title celebration in 30 years, their exchange going viral on social media.

“My feeling was, I want to be there where they are,” Lampard explained afterward, citing an accompanying lack of respect from the Liverpool bench that proved the catalyst for a series of verbal digs, which are still going on even into the new season.

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Klopp suggested earlier last week that Liverpool have a different approach to the transfer market amid the coronavirus pandemic compared with clubs “owned by countries and oligarchs,” a thinly veiled reference to Manchester City and Chelsea. Lampard rejected that claim by pointing out the cost of the individual component parts in Liverpool’s title-winning team, and despite some attempts to frame the narrative around Sunday’s game as big-spending Chelsea tackling modestly maintained Liverpool, there are in fact some parallels that run particularly deep.

Among Klopp’s biggest achievements to date was navigating the departure of his team’s best player yet still improving his team to win the Premier League title. With Philippe Coutinho‘s stock now so low that he’s being offered around Europe for a fresh start, it’s perhaps easy to forget how seismic the blow felt when Barcelona prised him away from Merseyside in January 2018. The hole he left was not as large as the one vacated by Eden Hazard at Chelsea when he joined Real Madrid last summer, but the two-part challenge is the same now for Lampard as it was then for Klopp: stabilise, and then elevate the team to win the Premier League.

Klopp managed both brilliantly. Lampard has negotiated the first; now for the second.

Coutinho’s Liverpool exit was not as protracted as Hazard’s move to Madrid, but nevertheless speculation persisted for months. Liverpool managed to keep the wantaway Brazilian through a difficult summer of 2017 but by the following January, Klopp admitted defeat.

“Barcelona is his dream, and I am now convinced there is nothing left at our disposal to change his mind,” Klopp said upon confirmation of the £142 million transfer. Liverpool already had their plans in place, acquiring Mohamed Salah, Dominic Solanke, Andrew Robertson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, later, Virgil van Dijk for a sum largely offset by return on Coutinho. They secured Champions League qualification at the end of the 2017-18 season as Klopp moulded his new signings, developing a team that would push a record-breaking Manchester City side all the way in 2018-19, before finally surpassing them last year.

Lampard guided Chelsea into the top four in Chelsea’s first season without Hazard, with the Blues following Liverpool’s example in defying the inevitability of his move by securing a satisfactory fee. Chelsea were nowhere near as prepared as the Reds given last summer’s FIFA transfer ban, but they had already signed a replacement in Christian Pulisic and ultimately chose not to enter the market last January, preferring instead to keep their powder dry for this summer’s explosive activity.

The Blues’ £220m outlay — assuming Edouard Mendy completes his move from Stade Rennes as expected — makes them Europe’s biggest spenders so far this summer. It is the second-highest amount Chelsea have ever spent in one window, yet since February 2019, they are estimated to have still made a net profit of £4.5m, chiefly due to the money received for Hazard from Real and Alvaro Morata from Atletico Madrid.

With Liverpool turning a slightly bigger profit in their Coutinho-related business, the comparison is clear. But Lampard now has to bind his team together to achieve the blend of quality and consistency that took Liverpool from the top four mix to the top of the pile.

Perhaps Klopp’s sly dig in Chelsea’s direction originates from the fact that Liverpool have not reinforced from their position of strength, as the adage dictates. He is keen in mentality to attack the title rather than defend it, but the Reds have not adopted that aggression in the transfer market, only signing Kostas Tsimikas, a backup left-back, for £11.7m from Olympiakos. (The equation changes slightly if Liverpool complete the move for Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago; which sources confirmed to ESPN on Thursday that he would soon sign a four-year deal with the Premier League champions.)

There will be an early test of this fiscal discipline when Timo Werner lines up against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. The 24-year-old was keen on moving to Anfield, but Liverpool declined to follow up their interest with a formal offer. In a sliding-doors moment, Chelsea switched their attention from Lyon striker Moussa Dembele once they sensed an opportunity to sign Werner and moved quickly to get their man.

The German international looked lively in Chelsea’s opening Premier League win at Brighton on Monday night, and Lampard’s decision to shift to a 4-2-3-1 formation seems to offer the best chance of accommodating the German, Pulisic, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech in the same lineup when all four are fit.

Yet the final stepping stone for Liverpool was tightening up at the back, with Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson proving the missing pieces of the puzzle. A lot is resting on Thiago Silva and Mendy, assuming he arrives from Rennes, in that regard as Kepa Arrizabalaga continues to underwhelm. But more than that, Lampard has to mould his expensive component parts into a cohesive unit that becomes greater than the sum of its parts, rather than one previously reliant on Hazard’s individual brilliance to win matches. They did so to finish fourth last season, but the stakes are higher in a title challenge.

Chelsea have switched systems on a regular basis, deploying a back three in moments of acute pressure, but the onus is on them to find a style and shape that imposes them on all opponents, just as the great sides have always done: Liverpool, Manchester City and, a few years back, Chelsea themselves.

A spat over spending is scenery for the build-up to a game that offers Lampard a chance to deliver a statement performance against a team they lost to three times last season. Sparring on the touchline and in news conferences is one thing. Sparring for the title is where Lampard wants to be.

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