Villas-Boas faces dilemma over Lampard role question

 

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The Independent Online

The moment of truth for Frank Lampard will arrive this afternoon when Andre Villas-Boas reveals his team for Chelsea's Champions League match against Valencia tonight.

If Lampard's name is absent, his future as a serious player at Stamford Bridge would seem to be coming to a close. The mainstay of the Chelsea midfield for the best part of a decade, Lampard has only started one of the club's last four matches and then he was replaced at half-time with Chelsea 3-0 down at Manchester United.

With his England career taking a similar course, Lampard has only played 90 minutes once in seven matches this month, against Sunderland on 10 September. Once a prolific goalscorer from midfield (including 25 goals in Europe) he has managed one this season, a penalty in August against Norwich City.

Villas-Boas is acutely sensitive to questions about Lampard, just as he has been to inquiries about Fernando Torres's form. He knows it is a big call for a new manager to omit such a key figure. He was especially tetchy yesterday, maybe because a problem with their plane meant Chelsea left Gatwick three and a half hours late, nearly all of which time was spent on the runway before British Airways found a replacement. For someone as meticulous as Villas-Boas, this would have been very frustrating.

When asked yesterday whether he had to reassure Lampard about his future he responded by asking his inquisitor how many Premier League matches Lampard had played this season. The answer is five, but the fact he was hooked at half-time in the last start, and left on the bench in the subsequent game, would seem more relevant.

Villas-Boas went on: "So you just took the negative part instead of the positive part. Frank is a magnificent player. An established, top-quality player, one of the most important at the club and will continue to be. He has nothing to prove to anybody in the world. I think and hope he will continue to succeed at this club for the remainder of my years here."

Clear enough. So given he's rested and highly experienced in Europe, he will play tonight then? Villas-Boas refused to take the easy way out and say "yes", possibly because Lampard might not. Instead he said: "It depends on the strategy we want to play. I make choices like any manager. There is nothing dramatic in that. They are for the benefit of the team. The fact players are out, they are in, it's not about individuals. They are all a part of the team and its success."

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