Benched Lampard a signal of value to Chelsea cause
Frank Lampard’s continued importance to Chelsea will effectively be reinforced tonight when he sits out the second leg of the team’s tie against Sparta Prague, with Rafael Benitez holding the veteran back for Sunday’s daunting visit to Manchester City.
The interim manager was glowing in his praise of the England midfielder in explaining his decision ahead of the trip to the Etihad Stadium, and stressed that Lampard will go on to break Bobby Tambling’s club record of 202 goals before his contract expires in the summer.
The 34-year-old’s fine finish against Brentford on Sunday earned him his 199th goal for Chelsea, and his fifth in six matches for club and country, but he will recharge his batteries tonight with the hosts 1-0 up from the away leg.
“Lampard will not be in the squad against Sparta Prague because we have to manage it a little bit,” said Benitez, whose side lead the tie courtesy of Oscar’s late goal in the Czech Republic last week. “If he can score a lot of goals it will be fantastic for him and will be fantastic for us.
“Everybody knows he is close to the club record. I am sure they will try to help if they have a chance. If we have a penalty, he can take it, and things like this. But the main thing is he’s doing well, scoring goals. For anyone it would be great, but for a midfielder to be on the verge of 200 goals for a club . . . He’ll score those 200 goals. But, for now, we have more competition in midfield and that’s good for me. It’s a problem, but a good one because we have too many games, so to have many players available is good.”
It remains to be seen whether Chelsea’s stance on Lampard’s presence at the club beyond the end of the current campaign shifts in the coming weeks, though a dialogue is expected to open between the club’s chief executive, Ron Gourlay, and the player’s representatives. That could potentially yield the offer of a new deal but, at present, Lampard is still assuming his 12-year career at the club will draw to a close in the summer.
Benitez will also rest Branislav Ivanovic on his 29th birthday, with Demba Ba cup-tied, as he seeks to progress into the last 16 of the competition – where they will meet either Steaua Bucharest or Ajax – before turning attention to City.
Chelsea are unbeaten in nine European home games with Mikel John Obi expected to return to the starting line-up after his exertions at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The immediate focus for Benitez may be on success with Chelsea but speculation is mounting over him potentially making a move to Real Madrid, with reports suggesting he called them his sporting “sweetheart”.
“In Spain, translation always changes something so I never said ‘sweetheart’,” Benitez said yesterday afternoon.
“I have a lot of respect for Real Madrid because they have a manager in place, but I have a job to do at Chelsea and a contract here. My job now is to do my best for Chelsea so it is very clear.”.