Lampard fears new Chelsea will forget their old heart

England midfielder worried about future as Abramovich's expensively assembled side take step closer to qualification
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The Independent Football

As the aeroplane carrying Chelsea's jet set hurried skyward out of Bratislava as quickly as the club's ambitions, a nagging concern was developing about the heart of the squad Roman Abramovich's money is assembling.

Heart in the basic sense of the centre of the team - clearly in need of an anchor figure, a leader, an artisan to allow licence to the artists - but also about the core that some fear has quickly been set aside. The England international Frank Lampard, whose place is in jeopardy like many others, voiced the thoughts of his team-mates.

"For me, we can't lose sight of the players that are already there - the fans will tell you that," Lampard said. "I hope the squad that was there stays. I would like to think we have a lot of good players that can stay and take the club forward where it wants to be."

After all, it is those players who earned Chelsea's place in the qualifying rounds for the Champions' League. The comfortable 2-0 victory against the Slovakian champions, MSK Zilina, in Wednesday evening's first leg was a perfect work-out in many ways for the coach, Claudio Ranieri, who handed six competitive debuts and started with just four players who had featured against Liverpool last May in the match which secured entry into the competition.

"The Liverpool game was the be-all and end-all," Lampard said. "Had we lost it, things could have been very different. Now we are in a different league in terms of the players that have come in. We are a million miles away. I would like to think I can be involved with that, along with several other players. It would be nice to carry that on."

Those who are unlikely to carry on, however, include Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Emmanuel Petit, Mario Stanic and Boudewijn Zenden.

Of the new players, Damien Duff - the most expensive at £17m - was also the most successful. His ability to run with the ball, beat defenders and deliver will justify the price tag. Wayne Bridge was competent, Géremi a little disappointing while Juan Sebastian Veron, playing out of position, occasionally illuminated matters without showing a great eagerness to play on the right. Joe Cole produced an attractive cameo as substitute - as he may have to get used to doing.

Glen Johnson, watched by Tord Grip, the assistant to the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, was composed and aggressive enough probably to earn an England call-up tomorrow at the age of 18. Johnson, with little more than a dozen first-team appearances to his career, said: "I feel calm. I always have been. That's the sort of player I am and the sort of person I am. I heard Tord Grip was there. People say if I can break into this Chelsea side I might have a chance for England but I'm not paying any attention to all that."

It is a sentiment with which Lampard, also hopeful of being in the squad for next week's friendly against Croatia, would concur. He acknowledged that he may have to adapt his game and could face more competition if the powerful Claude Makelele is signed from Real Madrid. "Maybe I have to understand I will have to hold a little more at times but I would like to stick to the game I played last season," he said.

"I have heard the rumours of Makelele - it is a lot of competition. It will be difficult to get into the team but that is where we are - our club is unique at the moment. The fact we can buy pretty much anyone and have such a big squad. I am sure Makelele would not be guaranteed a place in the team. That would be madness." Madness indeed. But such is the crazy world of "new Chelsea".

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