Forget Spygate as Frank Lampard hails Marcelo Bielsa, Patrick Bamford, Jack Harrison and return of Leeds United rivalry with Chelsea

THERE was never going to be a shortage of topics for Frank Lampard to discuss ahead of tonight’s Premier League showdown against Leeds United at Stamford Bridge.

Saturday, 5th December 2020, 5:45 am

The Whites and Blues rivalry stemming back to the 1970s, fans returning for the first time in nine months in the country’s ongoing battle against coronavirus, Chelsea’s title chances, United’s impressive start to life in the Premier League.

Oh, and Spygate.

Nearly two years might have passed since a member of Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s staff was caught spying on a Derby County training session yet Lampard and Bielsa were never not going to face questions this week ahead of Bielsa versus Lampard part five.

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HISTORY: Former Chelsea midfielder and now Blues boss Frank Lampard fires in a shot chased by Leeds United's Eirik Bakke during the Premiership clash at Elland Road in October 2001. Picture by Michael Steele /Allsport via Getty Images.

As expected, plenty of Lampard’s pre-match press conference yesterday was spent talking about Leeds.

Yet not particularly about Spygate this time with Lampard insisting the whole episode was now firmly over and instead declaring his respect for Bielsa as a coach as well as an admiration for Whites duo and former team-mates Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison.

Harrison and Bamford might not have been obvious subjects to discuss in the grand scheme of things given the back story to Lampard against Bielsa who faced each other four times during the 2018-19 Championship campaign when Lampard was in charge of Derby County.

Four fixtures and three wins for Bielsa yet a running battle dominated by the Spygate saga for which Bielsa and Leeds apologised before and after the EFL fined them £200,000 for breaching “good faith”, a fine Bielsa paid himself.

Lampard then had the last laugh as his sole victory against Bielsa ended United’s 2018-19 promotion bid in the play-off semi-finals though defeat in the final against Aston Villa was to follow before the former England midfielder was appointed manager of Chelsea.

With Leeds then storming to promotion as Championship champions the following season, Bielsa versus Lampard is back on the menu yet this time also entwining the fierce rivalry of Chelsea and Leeds.

And rather than being bogged down in more questions about the Spygate saga it was of the classic rivalry between the two clubs that Lampard chose to focus on as well as an admiration for two players he featured alongside in his own playing career.

Asked at his pre-match press conference if the Spygate saga was something he could forgive and forget, Lampard said: “It’s in the past.

“I’m certainly not going to dwell on it going into this game, I would rather dwell on the respect that I have for him as a coach.

“It was a great news story, it had a lot to it and it’s gone and I just look at him and how well he did with Leeds.

“He brought Leeds up the year after, they were one of the strongest teams in the Championship, probably the strongest in the year that we played against them at Derby so it was a very proud moment for us, for myself actually, to go against him and win that game.

“But it’s a game long gone now and I go up against him with a team in great form and I just see the football side of it now.”

Reflecting on Bielsa admitting on Thursday that he had learnt a valuable lesson about English football culture, Lampard said: “I’m absolutely not concerned about what lessons he’s learned or not.

“Honestly, I really don’t.

“I’m definitely not going to hang on it for this game. It’s long gone.

“I respect him, I respect Leeds. I’m only concerned with us being right to try and win the match.”

And what a match in prospect in the first meeting between fierce historical rivals Leeds and Chelsea for 16 years with United finally back in the top flight after their absence of more than a decade and a half.

For Lampard, it will be a first taste of the Leeds and Chelsea rivalry as a manager having had previous experience of the fixture as a player with the Blues until United’s relegation in 2004.

The rivalry between the two clubs all began in the 1960s when Don Revie’s Whites began ruffling the feathers of established top-flight big guns and Lampard is well aware of what the fixture means, even if it might be a rather different story for some of his foreign summer recruits.

Lampard reasoned: “I’m aware of the rivalry myself from being obviously a Chelsea player for so long and I know how the fans feel about it and that’s good.

“That’s football rivalry in the Premier League, two huge clubs having feelings and having a history.

“It’s hard for me to equate that history and talk to, I don’t know, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz and certain players.

“They don’t know that history so they can only look at Leeds at face value and see a very good team, a very well managed team, with players with incredible energy and speed in their game so I don’t know if rivalry will come or not.

“But I know it will be a competitive match because that’s how Leeds approach games these days.”

That approach already has United on 14 points for the new campaign with Bielsa’s Whites sat 11th and only five points adrift of third-placed Chelsea in a tightly-packed division.

And two of United’s star men are former team-mates of Lampard, who says he has been delighted with the career progression of former young Chelsea striker Bamford and ex-New York City winger Harrison.

Lampard was 33 and approaching the latter stages of his career as a player with Chelsea when the Blues signed an 18-year-old Bamford from Nottingham Forest in January 2012 and

Lampard recalled: “I remember him well. He trained with us quite a lot as a young player when he arrived at the club.

“He clearly had great finishing ability and an eye for goal in that early stage at Chelsea.

“Obviously it didn’t quite work out for him which is probably more due to the competition he faced at that period up front for us and I think he should be proud of the way his career has gone to make different moves and to come back and be one of the leading scorers in the Premier League in a very good Leeds team.

“I like Patrick as a lad and he is playing very well. I am really happy for him.”

And similar thoughts apply to Harrison who was just 20 when Lampard played alongside the winger for New York in 2015-16.

Asked if that experience had helped him in his preparation for the game, Lampard smiled: “Yes and no because Jack is a million miles from the player he was in New York and I hope that doesn’t sound negative in any way but he was a real development player at that point.

“He’s an absolutely lovely lad. I have got so much time for Jack.

“I keep in touch with him and I actually spoke with him the other day and the player that he has developed into at Leeds has been really, really impressive.

“He’s playing great football, he is a threat with two feet, he is quick, can run at high intensity and he is one of their major players in an attacking sense.

“I’m delighted for him in how his career has gone.

“Of course we want to nullify that but his career has gone in a great direction and it will continue to do so.”

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Thank you Laura Collins