Frank Lampard took the final steps on the road back to starting his first game of the season for Chelsea since August when he came through a 60-minute training ground practice match unscathed yesterday and is ready to start against Manchester United on Sunday.
The England midfielder came back as a substitute against Spurs last Sunday when it was felt that it was worth risking him because of the importance of the game despite fears that it might be too early. Yesterday he played in the 11-a-side game at Cobham which involved first-team, reserves and academy players on a full-sized pitch.
Lampard's last start was against Stoke City on 28 August before he was diagnosed with a hernia which was operated on and – it was originally thought – would require around two weeks' rest. However, he twice had set-backs in his rehabilitation, including tearing the tendon away from the bone in his leg.
Carlo Ancelotti told the Corriere della Sera in Italy that Lampard would come back probably in place of the Brazilian Ramires who has been given an extended run in the team in his absence. Didier Drogba, left out of the side for the game against Tottenham but a half-time substitute at White Hart Lane, is also expected to return on Sunday.
Ancelotti also said he expected, at the very least, to see out his contract until 2012 despite the uncertainty over his future that has been caused by the sacking of Ray Wilkins and a run of results in which Chelsea have won just one league game in the last seven.
In the interview, Ancelotti said, "there are no problems in the dressing room, the relationships are good" and blamed the team's poor run on injuries to Lampard, John Terry and Alex da Costa, Drogba's malaria and Michael Essien's injury and suspension.
Ramires, an £18m signing from Benfica in the summer, admitted yesterday that he had taken time to adapt to the styles of English football. "I feel good, I feel better all the time and I think I am better adapted than I was before, and starting to show the football I played at my previous clubs. I am working harder and harder to show that I am more at home in England.
"It is everything I expected," he told Chelsea TV via an interpreter. "I came prepared for the speed and the strength of the Premier League and what I find is that the training sessions at Chelsea are as intense as the matches, so the matches are exactly as I thought they would be. In previous clubs, training was never so intense, but I pushed myself harder so that physically, tactically, I was always ready to play."
In a preview to the Manchester derby, published in The Independent on November 10, we suggested that Sir Alex Ferguson had "hiked tensions" ahead of the game. Sir Alex's comments about the rivalry between his club and Manchester City were only one part of a broader discussion of the game and we apologise for presenting his press conference in a more sensationalised way than it warranted.