This weekend, Frank Lampard and Marcelo Bielsa will reluctantly become the new protagonists in a once-vicious rivalry between Chelsea and Leeds United that has endured for nearly 70 years.
However, Saturday’s meeting at Stamford Bridge certainly won’t want for a compelling narrative. The players may not be particularly familiar with one another, but Lampard and Bielsa certainly are. Indeed, one could possibly argue that nobody is more familiar with the Englishman’s work than the Argentine.
It was in January of last year that police were alerted to the presence of a “suspicious male” during a Derby County training session at Oakwood.
It emerged that the man in question was a Leeds employee and Bielsa subsequently admitted that he hadsent a member of his coaching staff to observe Lampard’s preparations for a game between their two sides.
The EFL hit Leeds with a £200,000 fine, which Bielsa paid himself, after ruling that they had breached Article 3.4, which relates to treating other clubs and the league itself “with the utmost good faith”, and even firmed up their rules on such matters.
The fallout from ‘Spygate’ didn’t end there, of course.
Lampard was irritated by the fact that he received no apology from Bielsa, who instead explained during a 66-minute presentation to the media that ‘spying’ was only a tiny part of his meticulous preparations for each and every game, which only added to his legend.
Indeed, it spawned the joke that Bielsa knew more about Derby’s tactics than Lampard himself. Unsurprisingly, Leeds fans saw the funny side, too, and added a ‘Stop crying, Frank Lampard’ song to their matchday setlist.
Lampard, though, would have the last laugh. While Leeds won three of their four meetings with Derby during the 2018-19 season, the Rams knocked the Yorkshire outfit out of the end-of-season play-offs.
The former Chelsea and Manchester City midfielder even sang the very song Leeds fans used to mock him after his side’s decisive 4-2 victory at Elland Road.
However, even after swapping Derby for Chelsea last summer, Lampard clearly remained irked by ‘Spygate’. That wasunderlined by his reaction to Bielsa receiving a ‘Fair Play’ award from FIFA at the end of last year, for allowing Aston Villa to equalise immediately after a Leeds goal the Rosario native felt shouldn’t have stood.
“I did smile,” the Blues boss told reporters. “I don’t know who votes for it. Who votes for it?
“Listen, what happened with Spygate is well-documented. The rules changed slightly because of it and they were fined. I felt it was improper. I don’t have to say any more.
“But to get a fair play award off the back of that, I thought it was irony at first.”
With all of that in mind, there is an obvious temptation to see Saturday’s game as a new battle in an ongoing war between two great clubs. The pair have a long rivalry, there’s no doubt about that.
It first began when Don Revie’s Leeds emerged as a major force in European football in the 1960s. Hooliganism, England’s North-South divide and contrasting approaches to the game only perpetuated the animosity between the two clubs over the years.
Chelsea even won their first-ever FA Cup in 1970 by beating Leeds in an epic replay and they would go on to have many more bruising battles during the decade.
“It is a historic rivalry,” former Blues ace Joe Cole told Goal. “Football throws up these rivalries even though they are teams from the opposite ends of the country. History comes into it and the fans pass it on.
“When I grew up watching Chelsea, there was always talk of the ‘Dirty Leeds’ games and the 70s. I think it is important that Frank lets the players know about the history of this particular game, so they know what Chelsea-Leeds means.”
Deep down, Lampard would no doubt also derive a little satisfaction from getting one over on Bielsa this weekend, not that he would admit it, of course. But it won’t be a major motivating factor. He has more important things on his mind than petty squabbles.
As Cole added, “I think the Lampard-Bielsa rivalry is just for the fans and media. I think Frank has moved on and there’s a whole host of other things for him to deal with.
“Chelsea-Leeds is already big enough as it is, it is on TV and two exciting teams playing each other. It is a cracking game without the backstory.”
An important one, too. Chelsea, after all, have a title challenge to maintain by taking three points from a very tricky fixture.
The former England international will have no interest in bringing up the past ahead of the game, and nor will Bielsa. It is worth noting that neither man used the ‘Spygate’ scandal to fire up their players before the Championship play-offs.
And besides, Lampard will be acutely aware that even without the aid of suspicious males, Bielsa is more than capable of coming up with a plan to end Chelsea’s eight-match undefeated run in the Premier League.
Leeds have already given Liverpool an almighty scare at Anfield, taken points off both Manchester City and Arsenal at Elland Road, and won away at Everton only last weekend.
“Bielsa is a fantastic character but what he does so well, and you could see it in the Championship, is adjust for each side in the league,” EFL pundit and former England striker Dean Ashton told Goal.
“Leeds tweak their set-up having looked at the strength and weakness of every side. That was what was impressive when the pressure was on last season, that his team were still able to win 1-0 if they had to.”
Bielsa will doubtless have a strategy in mind for derailing a Chelsea steam train that has built up some serious momentum of late. Lampard, meanwhile, will be plotting how to curb the threat posed by a team that seems to excel against bigger sides.
Victory is of the utmost importance, both for Leeds, who may well begin harbouringthoughts of European qualification if they can maintain their impressive start, and title-chasing Chelsea.
Source : goal.com