No, Jurgen, Frank Lampard is not going to start Chelsea’s half-injured youth just because he thinks that you think they’re as good and therefore as threatening as your old Dortmund squad, no matter how much smoke you blow up his Shed End.
Some of the more amusing mental contortions of the Maurizio Sarri era at Chelsea were how being a Sarri fan required one to be a Pep Guardiola fan because Sarri himself was such a Guardiola fan, and how Guardiola become the ultimate appellate authority. When Pep spoke, all must listen, starting with Sarri. This was occasionally not so amusing, such as when Guardiola goaded Sarri into playing Sarriball against Manchester City in the Premier League after non-Sarriball took the Carabao Cup final to a shootout, and the Blues lost 6-0 in the league.
Jurgen Klopp must think Chelsea have an equally pliable manager. Like Guardiola toying with Sarri, Klopp gave the Blues the egotist’s ultimate compliment: “it reminds me a little bit of my team.” He then praised many Chelsea players by name, starting by saying Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham are already £60 million players and then name-checking nine others. Guess he doesn’t rate Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Frank Lampard was not interested, and went about playing the press game his own way.
Lampard said the UEFA Super Cup showed Chelsea could compete with the best in form team in the country. This is a bit of salt on Pep Guardiola, who cannot argue that Liverpool are much more in form than his Manchester City side, but who nonetheless does not abide hearing the words “best” and “team” – regardless of any additional modifiers – applied to anyone else.
Lampard then joked about how Klopp did not praise him personally, just the players. This put the appropriate amount of levity on Klopp’s comments: it’s all just fun banter. No manager worthy of coaching Chelsea FC would actually take to heart and mind what the opposing manager said in a press conference.
Which brings us to what Klopp and Lampard are really getting at. Aside from the injury updates, Lampard did not give anything away about his starting XI. When asked about how Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori will match up against Virgil van Dijk, Lampard never wavered from “if they start.”
If? Surely there’s no if. But there it is, just in case, just to make you think.
The press conferences are the opening whistle of the match. Kind-hearted puffery does not rattle the opposing manager the way the flames from Sir Alex Ferguson or the rapiers from Jose Mourinho would, but it still serves a strategic purpose. But it takes two to tango. The target of the puffery has to be manipulable in a different way that Ferguson’s and Mourinho’s targets. Those two squared up against managers who were fragile, brittle or easily provoked. Praise-fests like Klopp’s and Guardiola’s seek out a different kind of insecurity, the type found in who wants affirmation so much he’ll wheel the large wooden horse (or rabbit, or badger) within the walls.
Frank Lampard knows better. He is not going to say “Jurgen thinks these young players are worth £60 million and this team as it has been assembled is so dynamic and exciting as his that won the Bundesliga. Yeah, I’ll start my half-crocked youngsters because, he’s right, they are talented and they do make us exciting and that’s how we can win.”
No. Maybe last year Klopp could have been such a banal Svengali, but not this year.
Frank Lampard has not put a foot wrong in his public statements so far this season. He did not get drawn out on the dais this afternoon, and having taken care of that business he certainly will not let Friday’s chit-chat shape Sunday’s action.
Sorry, Jurgen. If you draw Juventus in the Champions League knockout rounds, you can try it there.*
*Assuming Juventus make it to the Champions League knockout round.**
**Assuming Maurizio Sarri is still employed there.