EPL

Lampard wants common sense approach to COVID-19: 'Safety's paramount, not keeping the nation's spirits up'

By Sports Desk January 01, 2021

Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard has urged authorities to let common sense and safety concerns dictate any future decision-making regarding the coronavirus pandemic's impact on English football.

Much of the United Kingdom is once again under tough restrictions due to a second wave of COVID-19.

This has started to affect elite football, with Manchester City's scheduled match against Everton earlier this week postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak in the former's playing staff, while the Premier League confirmed on Tuesday that a record 18 positives had been tallied in the most recent round of testing.

Some have called for the Premier League to halt once again as it did in March 2020, with West Brom boss Sam Allardyce particularly vocal in this regard.

Chelsea's next match sees them face City on Sunday, and while Lampard is not aware of the game being at risk of postponement, he confirmed two members of the Blues' staff have contracted the virus this week.

"I've not been given the chances of it being postponed, I'm just aware of the situation and at the moment the game is on," Lampard told reporters on Friday.

"We know Man City had some positives within their training ground, we have had a couple ourselves but not on the playing staff, and that's the current situation.

"Generally, we feel probably as safe as the public because of the new surge in numbers we are seeing, so I think we feel the same. But we are in a more protected environment, certainly in the workplace.

"I know some people are working from home or staying at home, but we are now being tested twice a week, I think that's really important. I don't really understand why we went down to once a week.

"It seems to me the situation is we go game by game in terms of the games being called off due to positives around that game itself. I understand that, let's just see how it goes as it is uncertain times."

But when asked whether football continuing regardless was important for "national morale", Lampard was dubious.

"I'm not sure on that one - I understand it, I certainly love football and if you do, you love watching the amount of games on at home, but I think safety has to be paramount," he said.

"The fact I said we have a couple of staff positive means there are lots of people working within our bubble who have babies, parents, friends, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and they come here and to work, then go home and are obviously in the environment where we're in another surge of COVID-19 that seems to be more contagious.

"So, safety and security is paramount, as opposed to keeping the nation's spirits up. It might not be a nice thing to say but these are tough times for everybody. We enjoy watching our football, but safety and health have to come first."

Lampard was then pushed on whether he would back another pause, adding: "I would have no choice, would I? We had that in March then it [the infection rate] came down.

"I have to say, the Premier League and clubs themselves have done everything they can to make the environment as safe as possible, but as we are finding, that's not always easy to do when people go home, leave the building.

"Numbers are going up, particularly in London where we are, so I think it would have to be up to the authorities - the government, the Premier League - to be clear that it would be beneficial to stop with a circuit-breaker or whatever, but that's something I don't know. If you're told to stop, you stop."

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  • Leipzig star Konate responds to big Liverpool 'rumours' Leipzig star Konate responds to big Liverpool 'rumours'

    Ibrahima Konate has cast fresh doubt on suggestions he will leave RB Leipzig to join Liverpool at the end of the season.

    The 21-year-old French defender is said to have a €40million (£34.8m) release clause in his contract and reports have claimed the Reds may activate that.

    However, Leipzig sporting director Markus Krosche last month told Stats Perform News the move was "not an option" for Konate to consider.

    Now, Konate has spoken on the matter, telling German newspaper Bild: "I have a contract until 2023. And contracts are there to be fulfilled.

    "There are often rumours in football and many believe them immediately. I or my agents did not get a call from Liverpool.

    "I also have big goals with RB Leipzig: to get the best possible result in the Bundesliga, reach the cup final and the Under-21 European Championship with France."

    Leipzig, sitting second in the Bundesliga, were facing a home assignment on Friday against Hoffenheim as they looked to put pressure on leaders Bayern Munich.

    Unlike Liverpool, whose hopes hang in the balance, Leipzig appear certain to be in the Champions League next season.

    Yet they will lose one star French defender when Dayot Upamecano defects to Bayern Munich at the end of the campaign, and to see another depart might be considered a body blow.

    Konate is already thinking about life at Leipzig after Upamecano leaves, insisting he wants to be appraised on his own merits rather than compared to the future Bayern star.

    "I don't want to be Dayot's successor. I'm me," said Konate. "We both came to Leipzig in 2017 and played well together here. Unfortunately, our paths are now parting. I'll let Dayot have his new job and continue doing my thing here."

    Injuries have got in the way of Konate's progress and he has played in just 11 Bundesliga games this season, starting five times in the competition.

    In that time he has achieved a duel success rate of 68.66 per cent, which is the third highest among defenders with more than 500 minutes on the pitch this season in Germany's top flight. Opta defines a duel as a '50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides'.

    Konate has also won 23 of his 26 aerial challenges in the Bundesliga during the current campaign, and three of four tackles.

    On the tackles front, Konate has good examples to follow in the Leipzig ranks of players with strong success rates. Among defenders with over 500 minutes of action in the Bundesliga this term, Lukas Klostermann ranks first in the league with a 92.31 per cent rate (12 of 13 tackles won), while Upamecano is fourth with 81.82 per cent (27 of 33 won).

  • 17 days in April: A Clasico World Series 17 days in April: A Clasico World Series

    Pep Guardiola had a simple message for the fans after becoming Barcelona head coach in 2008: "Fasten your seatbelts."

    In April 2011, the Catalan press recalled that promise of excitement as they previewed a once-in-a-generation event: four matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid, with three trophies at stake, in 17 days. A Clasico World Series. A defining run of fixtures where winning was everything and losing was unimaginable, with each side dreaming of celebrating a treble and terrified of watching the other do the same.

    More like fasten your bandoliers. This was war.

    On one side, the Barca of Guardiola, the man taking the coaching world by storm in his first senior post-playing job. A team built from La Masia, boasting some of the academy's greatest ever products: Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi. With the ball on their 'carousel', they were the pinnacle of possession-based attacking play, proof that technical accomplishment could triumph over brute force. They were chasing a second treble in three seasons, and under Guardiola, they had never lost a final.

    It could be said Madrid were afraid of this new Barca, and in their fear, they made a deal with the devil. In came Jose Mourinho, the man whose Inter thwarted Barca's attempts to play a Champions League final at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2010. His task was not so much to knock the Catalans off their perch, but to raze the perch to the ground. A league champion in Portugal, England and Italy, the mastermind of Inter's historic treble, with two of history's most expensive signings in Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka at his disposal, Mourinho's task was clear: stop Barca at all costs.

    For some, this went beyond the two best teams in the world going head-to-head for trophies. This was a meeting of minds, a clash of styles, a fight for football's very soul. And so, in the spring of 2011, the battle lines were drawn. On April 16, Barca were to host Madrid in La Liga. Four days later, they would meet neutrally at Valencia's Mestalla in the Copa del Rey final. Then came the biggest of all: a two-legged Champions League semi-final for the right to face Manchester United at Wembley.

    Seven goals, 167 fouls, 24 yellow cards and four reds later, Barca emerged as Champions League finalists and shoo-ins for the La Liga title. Madrid held the Copa del Rey.

    And neither team, nor coach, would ever be quite the same again.

    April 16, 2011: Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona

    The opening skirmish.

    With Barca leading La Liga by eight points heading into the match, having won 26 and drawn three of their previous 29 top-flight games, few realistically believed a defeat would see them throw away the title. This was more of a warm-up act for what was to come, and the chance for Madrid – and Mourinho – to prove they had learned from the reverse fixture: a 5-0 evisceration at Camp Nou in November.

    Certainly, there were changes. Madrid had just 33 per cent of the ball in the first game and that dropped to 24 per cent here, as they completed 234 passes to Barca's 791.

    And yet they carried a much greater threat than before: They had more shots than Barca (13-11) and six on target, both the most they managed in any Clasico that term. Even after going a goal and a man down – Messi scoring a penalty after Raul Albiol was sent off for fouling David Villa – they salvaged a point after Ronaldo buried a spot-kick of his own.

    Mourinho was starting to make his mark. Madrid committed 22 fouls, with Pepe accounting for five of them. Only Lassana Diarra conceded more free kicks in any of the four matches. There were seven bookings, five of them for Barca, whose frustrations with the Madrid approach were summed up neatly when Messi booted the ball into the stands. Only three players created more than one goalscoring chance: Xavi, Angel Di Maria… and Pepe.

    For Mourinho, Albiol's red card was key. Although his side snatched a draw, they seemed at the mercy of the Barca circulation machine: 10 of Guardiola's players managed more than 30 passes, including substitute Seydou Keita, while only Sami Khedira (31) did so for Madrid. Xavi, who made 144 on his own, would average 139 per game across the four encounters.

    "Eleven against 10 and it was practically mission impossible," said Mourinho. "Especially against a team that – with possession of the ball – are the best in the world."

    The title race was out of Madrid's hands. However, in a one-off contest, things looked different…

     

    April 20, 2011: Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid

    "We knew that whoever scored first would win it," said Mourinho. "And so it proved."

    Ronaldo's 42nd goal of the season, a towering header from Di Maria's cross, was enough to decide a cup final spanning 120 gruelling minutes in Valencia. It was Ronaldo and Mourinho's first Madrid trophy, Guardiola's first final defeat, and an end to his dreams of a second treble.

    It was also a doubling-down by Mourinho on his pervading methods. Madrid allowed Barca 79 per cent of the ball with the Catalans' 901 passes nearly four times as many as their opponents managed. Concrete opportunities, again, were scarce: there were just four shots on target each from a total of 27.

    This time, Barca got sucked into the fight. They committed 24 fouls, their most in any Clasico that season, with each side earning three bookings apiece, and Di Maria was sent off in the dying moments. Their more combative approach neither improved Barca's play nor disrupted Madrid further; however, Los Blancos created nine chances in the contest, only one fewer than Barca, despite yielding so much of the possession.

    "Life is like that – you can't always win," Guardiola rued. "We can take them on over two games – we've just done that," goaded Mourinho. And the world waited for what would come next.

    April 27, 2011: Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona

    The drama started on the eve of the match when Guardiola finally snapped.

    His rant at Mourinho, "the f****** boss," was his most public display of anger, his patience exhausted by his opponent's needling. The final straw had been Mourinho describing Pep as a unique coach "that criticises referees when they get decisions right".

    In that explosive news conference delivered mostly to "Mourinho's camera", Guardiola promised: "Tomorrow, 8.45 p.m., we will take to the field and we will try to play football as best as possible."

    One man certainly did.

    Messi had struggled to exert huge influence in the first two games. He had only one shot on target in the cup final, for instance. He was harried, kicked and crowded out at the Santiago Bernabeu this time, and yet won only two free-kicks as Barca committed more fouls than their opponents for the first time. It seemed Mourinho's mind games were paying off.

    This, perhaps foreshadowed in the pregame build-up involving their managers, was the most ill-tempered, poisonous game of the lot. There were three red cards shown: one to Barca substitute Jose Pinto, one to Pepe for a foul on Dani Alves, and one to Mourinho for his sarcastic praise of the officials. Again, though, Madrid's 10 men looked capable of salvaging a result, until Messi was unleashed at last. His first was a relative tap-in, a close-range finish from Ibrahim Afellay's cross. It is a goal that is easily forgotten due to what came after. Busquets rolled the ball into his path, and Messi was off – away from Diarra, away from Albiol, beyond Marcelo, before squeezing a low finish past Iker Casillas.

    It was his 11th goal in 11 Champions League games, his 52nd of the season, and perhaps the greatest he has ever scored: for the occasion, the speed, the execution, the kicks that failed to stop him.

    May 3, 2011: Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid

    Everyone, it seemed, felt the tie was already over. Madrid decided to prioritise chasing Barca players over chasing the game, committing 30 fouls for the return of a single shot on target. At least nobody was sent off.

    Gonzalo Higuain thought he had given Madrid the lead, but it was disallowed for a foul by Ronaldo in the build-up. Marcelo cancelled out Pedro's eventual opener, but it was Barca who went through – and Madrid who went apoplectic.

    "We feel tricked by the officials," Casillas said afterwards.

    "Next year, they might as well give the cup to Barcelona," complained Ronaldo.

    Mourinho was facing possible punishment for suggesting referees favoured the Blaugrana, while both teams vowed to make official complaints to UEFA about the other.

    The battle was done, the hostilities over (on the pitch, at least). Crucially, though, the events of these matches hardened Mourinho's resolve. "Now I have more willingness to continue in charge of Real Madrid for what this means," he said. "This jersey is white, and white now has more significance."

     

    The aftermath

    Over those two spectacular weeks, the teams shared two draws and one win apiece. Barca, though, were the victors: a third league title in a row and a second Champions League triumph under Guardiola easily made up for losing the Copa final.

    Mourinho, however, would not lose the war.

    These games, and the 5-4 two-legged Supercopa de Espana defeat in August – one made infamous by Mourinho poking Barca assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye – showed the Portuguese the way to conquer Spain: disrupt Barca and destroy the rest. His players seemed galvanised, and they proved it.

    In 2010-11, Barca finished on 96 points, four ahead of Madrid. Interestingly, they only scored 95 goals to their rivals' 102, while conceding 12 goals fewer. They lost just two games to Madrid's four.

    Mourinho's response was to develop Madrid not into a team impossible to beat, but one that could barely stop winning. Records tumbled in 2011-12: 32 victories from 38 games, 121 goals scored, 100 points accrued. His Faustian pact with Madrid had paid off, but those vitriolic two campaigns took their toll. He has had three times as many job changes as league titles in the decade since.

    Barca also scored more that season: 114 times in the league overall, 50 of which came from Messi. Overall, though, their exceptional standards had slipped just enough. After three intense seasons under Guardiola and the brutality of El Clasico's rivalry, they just couldn't sustain it any longer. At the end of the season, Guardiola announced he was stepping down, admitting: "Four years is an eternity as Barca coach… I have nothing left."

  • Pogba unable to explain 'strange' Mourinho relationship Pogba unable to explain 'strange' Mourinho relationship

    Paul Pogba cannot explain why his relationship with Jose Mourinho turned sour at Manchester United, but claims to have a much different bond with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    Pogba was United's marquee signing for 2016-17 – Mourinho's first season in charge at the club – and helped the Red Devils to a Europa League title that campaign.

    Yet Mourinho's second term failed to live up to expectations and, after a difficult start to the 2018-19 season, the former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager was dismissed, with Solskjaer replacing him, initially on an interim basis before taking up the role full time.

    Mourinho's relationship with members of United's squad was said to have deteriorated, with an apparent training ground argument with Pogba coming after the France star was stripped of a vice-captaincy role in September 2018.

    Though Mourinho has since left United, Pogba's future remains unclear. His agent, Mino Raiola, has made several claims that the 28-year-old wishes to leave the club, and the midfielder's contract is up at the end of next season.

    For Pogba's part, he revealed he enjoys his relationship with Solskjaer, while still being none the wiser as to why he and Mourinho failed to get along, though hinted he does not believe the Portuguese's man-management style is correct.

    "What I have now with Ole is different, he wouldn't go against the players," Pogba told Sky Sports. "He wouldn't go against the players.

    "Maybe Ole wouldn't pick them, but it's not like he puts them on the side like they don't exist anymore. That's the difference between Mourinho and Ole.

    "Once I had a great relationship with Mourinho, everybody saw that, and the next day you don't know what happened. That's the strange thing I had with Mourinho and I cannot explain to you because even I don't know."

    Pogba's numbers – then and now.

    While Pogba's relationship with Mourinho ultimately failed to last, he did make more appearances (108) and starts (100) than any other United midfielder between August 2016 and December 2018.

    Indeed, Pogba's goal tally from that time span is 20, joint-most among United midfielders, alongside Jesse Lingard, while the former Juventus man also registered 22 assists in all competitions. 

    No United midfielder created more chances than Pogba (168) under Mourinho, while he also led the charts for minutes played (8,825).

    In comparison, Pogba has played 6,240 minutes in all competitions under Solskjaer, ranking second for midfielders behind Fred (7,595) while he has made the third-most appearances (83) and starts (67).

    Pogba's 17 goals in that time pale in comparison to Bruno Fernandes' 36, with his 15 assists seven fewer than the ex-Sporting CP playmaker's tally of 22.

    An impressive tackle success rate of 62.18 per cent from 119 challenges does show a different side of Pogba's game, perhaps proving the more defensive role which has been asked of him during Solskjaer's stint.

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