As the changing of the guard continues apace at Chelsea, the long-serving Frank Lampard was last night assured that he still has a part to play under the new regime.
The 34-year-old's future is in doubt as his contract runs out at the end of the season and Chelsea are not in the habit of offering anything more than a one-year extension to 30-somethings. They may or may not be prepared to make an exception for Ashley Cole, who in many people's eyes remains as good a left-back as any in the world, but another 12 months would appear to be the best Lampard could hope for. That was the offer to Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, both of whom decided to sail away for a lucrative sojourn in Shanghai.
From January, Lampard is entitled to talk to other clubs and, after 16 seasons in England, 11 of them at Chelsea, a swansong abroad would hold some appeal. More immediately, though, he must hope for a place in the Champions League tie at Nordsjaelland tonight after being allowed only nine minutes of the two recent Premier League wins against Stoke and Arsenal.
"His future is very strong at this club," said manager Roberto di Matteo. "He's a very important player for us. I've had conversations with him, which I do on a regular basis with the players because I like to exchange opinions with them.
"He's very supportive of the team when he's not in the team. When he's in the team, he's a great performer as well. From that point of view, we're fortunate to have a very strong squad with international players, and going forward with a busy schedule it's important we use these players."
If Lampard comes back into the team, it is more likely to be as one of the two defensive midfielders which, Di Matteo says, is a role that still allows him scope to push forward.
"He's been playing that role, but I don't think I've ever taken those other things away from him," said the Chelsea manager. "Those are his strengths, but you sometimes need discipline in that role. It's important for the balance of the team.
"But he's played there magnificently at the beginning of this season and last season as well."
The new attacking midfield trio of Eden Hazard, Oscar – who scored both goals in the opening 2-2 draw against Juventus – and Juan Mata confirmed in Saturday's 2-1 victory at the Emirates that they are establishing a rapport but at least one of them can expect to be rested. Ryan Bertrand could come in on the left and Victor Moses has claims to start for the second time after three impressive cameos as a substitute.
With Daniel Sturridge having stayed at home to continue his recovery from a hamstring strain, fellow striker Fernando Torres seems certain to continue a run of games in which he is slowly finding some form. Although a second goal against Arsenal rather than an air-shot when rounding the goalkeeper would have boosted his confidence further.
Like Arsenal, whose opening away game was against Montpellier, Di Matteo's team are facing an unfashionable side who caused a sensation last season by winning their domestic championship for the first time. Only founded in 1991, after one of the many mergers that characterise Danish football, they did not adopt their current name until nine years ago, following a financial scandal involving the previous chairman.
"This is the biggest test of all, against the Champions League winners and leaders of the Premier League," said coach Kasper Hjulmand. "Maybe one salary of their players would be our whole budget for the year. We have to go out and play with passion and courage."
Andreas Laudrup, the 21 year-old son of Swansea's manager Michael, is in the squad, but he is not expected to start.
With a home ground holding barely 10,000, Nordsjaelland will set a club attendance record by playing this game at the national stadium, the Parken, where Chelsea comfortably beat FC Copenhagen in 2011 with two goals by Anelka. For all Di Matteo's words of caution, anything less would be below par.
Nordsjaelland: HANSEN, RUNJE, MTILIGA, PARKHURST, OKORE, LORENTZEN, STOKHOLM, CHRISTENSEN, ADU, JOHN, NORDSTRAND
Chelseea: CECH, BERTRAND, TERRY, CAHILL, IVANOVIC, LAMPARD, MIKEL, RAMIRES, MATA, TORRES, HAZARD
Kick-off 7.45pm, Cluj-Napoca (ITV 1)
Referee A U Mallenco (Spain)
Odds: Cluj 5-1 Draw 14-5 Man Utd 4-6
*misses next match through suspension