Lampard and Chelsea focused on crucial test at Valencia
Defeat in Spain would put Blues in grave danger of missing out on the last 16
Frank Lampard: “I don’t think the Ajax draw did, it was losing a game at home on day one, when we should have got a result for sure.” Photograph: Kai Foersterling/EPA
Frank Lampard has said Chelsea are effectively in a knockout situation in their Champions League group and has admitted that his team will struggle to reach the last 16 if they lose to Valencia this evening.
Group H is finely balanced with two games remaining, with the top three teams level on seven points, and Chelsea’s superior head-to-head record against Ajax means they will qualify for the next round with a win at the Mestalla.
However Valencia, who were victorious when they faced Lampard’s side at Stamford Bridge in September, will be through if they win. With Ajax expected to win at Lille tonight, defeat would leave Chelsea at risk of dropping into the Europa League.
“That’s the reality of it,” Lampard said.
“The loss in the first game put us in this position. I don’t think the Ajax draw did, it was losing a game at home on day one, when we should have got a result for sure. So what we’ve done really is bring that knockout football slightly earlier in the competition. That’s no big problem. The reality is at this level you’re going to come to that kind of conundrum at some point where it will be like this, so that is a big test for us.”
Lampard was asked whether it is more important for his side to win or to avoid defeat.
“I think it’s a must-not-lose game because of the position we’re in,” he said. “We lost ground in the first game against Valencia. We’ve made up a lot of that ground but I always felt it would be a tight group and the reality of the situation is we are in this situation. We don’t want to lose the game. It doesn’t mean we’re out if we lose but it puts us in a very difficult position.”
Ross Barkley has been left at home after being pictured topless in Dubai during the recent international break. The former Everton midfielder has been out with an ankle injury and it is not the first time doubts have been raised about his professionalism.
Lampard left Barkley out of Chelsea’s game against Lille last month after the England international was pictured arguing with a taxi driver during a night out in Liverpool.
“I think there are two separate issues,” Lampard said.
“One is the headlines this week, Ross knows how I felt about the first headline. I backed him then, I still back him now but he showed a moment of a lack of professionalism as far as I’m concerned. And it’s not something that I want to be a pure dictator on and come down hard because I also understand that all my players are humans and I don’t police every moment of their life.
“I don’t think it’s a terrible thing that he’s done but all Ross needs to do now, he’s had an injury and he’s still kind of carrying the injury – he still gets a bit of pain on shooting – he just has to work his way back in.
“He trained well and I certainly don’t hold anything against my players. I like Ross, he’s firmly one of my players and I think it was something he needs to show all his reactions on the pitch.”
Lampard, who is without the hamstrung Callum Hudson-Odoi, insisted he has no concerns over Tammy Abraham’s record in big games. Abraham has scored once in the Champions League and is yet to find the net against the Premier League’s big six this season.