As Chelsea prepare to meet Liverpool in a third different competition this season, Frank Lampard has been discussing how the Reds’ rise can be a blueprint for the rebuilding job he is overseeing at Stamford Bridge.
Jurgen Klopp’s side head to west London in the FA Cup fifth round tonight having won the past two encounters this term, narrowly on both occasions. In Istanbul back in August, it took a penalty shootout to decide the Super Cup final following a 2-2 extra-time draw, while it was similarly tight as we fell to a 2-1 home defeat in the Premier League a few weeks later.
Lampard believes these contests are proof that his team can compete with a side currently 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League and reigning European champions, as long as they are at their very best.
‘We have to try to replicate the work [from those games], particularly in the second half at Stamford Bridge and most of the Super Cup game where we went toe-to-toe,’ said the Chelsea head coach. ‘It should give us confidence that, if we are at our best, we can go against them and match them.
‘I’ve been watching both of those games this last week and our team looks different in terms of individuals because we do have injury problems but the work we’re putting in will hopefully improve us over the big picture.’
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Despite their shock weekend defeat at Watford, Liverpool are a side that have practically passed every test in front of them this season, although Lampard knows that was not always the case under Klopp. They finished eighth seven months after he was appointed, outside of the European qualification places with West Ham and Southampton above them.
In December of that campaign, following a 2-2 home draw with West Brom secured only by a last-minute Divock Origi equalising goal, Klopp led his players to the Kop End and got them to link arms in a salute to their supporters.
It was a reaction that brought much derision from outside the club but one that Lampard recalls when contrasting his own early days in the dugout at the Bridge to Klopp’s start on Merseyside.
‘We’ve seen the Liverpool journey and it’s an incredible story of management, of club together with manager,’ explained Lampard. ‘I remember them doing the arms [aloft in the air in front of the Kop] when they drew with West Brom.
‘I watched a sports documentary recently where it came up. They were slightly ridiculed for it at the time but that was symbolic for me of the journey that this team that’s now an absolute machine has been on.’
Lampard believes there is plenty to learn from Liverpool’s success and their incredible improvement under Klopp, including smart recruitment and developing a holistic club-wide strategy, but it is sticking together through the ups and downs of the journey that he particularly wants to replicate in SW6.
‘It’s a reference point for us in terms of what a work in progress looks like and that it can take time,’ Lampard said. ‘Behind what we see now at Liverpool, a team that won so many games on the bounce, has been a lot of sweat and hard work from everyone involved, which is what I’m trying to do here.
‘There is a plan that seems to run through the club, which we’ll try to do here as well - keep moving forward, understand there will be tough times where I’ll be questioned, we’ll be questioned, formations will be questioned, the club will be questioned, and we have to stay tough within that.
‘Alongside that, they’ve signed fantastic players at the right times. The ones that feel pivotal are Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, players at big levels that absolutely improved their team. It’s a great knack they have of finding the right player at the right time that fits the way they want to play and keeps them moving forward so it’s a great model in those terms.
‘I don’t want to look anywhere near like I’m comparing us now or what we might be because what they’ve done is fantastic and it should only be spoken about at the other end where they’re at now when they’ve been very successful. I’m under no illusions that what’s really behind their story is hard work and that’s what I’m prepared to do.’
Lampard’s mantra of hard work to improve is clear and he is just as sure that Chelsea remain on the right track for future success.
‘It’s for everyone else to debate about where we are as a club now and what squad we have to what squads we might have had in previous years,’ he added. ‘We just have to work with what’s in front of us to win games.
‘There will be a lot of managers in the Premier League this year probably looking at their wins or points totals and it’s not near where they were at different times because this league is proving very competitive, barring Liverpool of course and maybe a bit of Manchester City.
‘The rest of us are fighting for consistency, fighting to improve and we have to understand that we’re in that. I think Chelsea fans understand that, to be fair.’
In the short-term, Lampard is preparing his players for another tough assignment and it is attacking efficiency that he knows must improve if they are to be able to compete with the likes of Liverpool, both in one-off games and over the course of a domestic campaign.
‘It comes with the territory of being a Chelsea player in an attacking area, there’s a pressure on you to deliver when it comes to goals and assists,’ he continued. ‘When you look back at the stats, you have to ask whether you have contributed enough in the things that really matter.
‘We need more goals from forward areas. When you’re trying to make the top four, if you start to make comparisons with other teams that make the top four year in, year out or the teams that are there now, there are goals across their frontlines.’
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