When the teamsheet is handed out in the press room at the Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday night, before Chelsea take on Valencia in their Champions League Group E fixture, all English eyes will be focused on the selections of Andre Villas-Boas. Is Frank Lampard, the ever-dependable yet ageing midfield warrior, in the starting line-up? Or is it another stint warming the bench for Mr Reliable?
Once upon a time, Lampard was indispensable – the first name on the teamsheet, the Stamford Bridge rock, the axis around which all things good about Chelsea revolved. And he provided goals galore, too: 20-plus a season, from the penalty spot, the deadliest of long-range drives or his ghosting late runs into the box. The Chelsea managers, Jose Mourinho et al, swore by Lampard.
Not any more. Villas-Boas, at 33, may be only eight months older than Lampard and a Premier League and Champions League rookie, but he knows what he wants and he wants it now. And if that means sacrificing Lampard on the altar of squad rotation, then so be it. Reputations count for little and egos will be bruised along the way in the court of King Andre. A sort of unspoken message: "Like it or lump it, Lamps". Because that's the way it's going to be.
Fabio Capello, the England manager, seems to subscribe to Villas-Boas's way of thinking, to judge by his similar recent marginalising of Lampard. The sands of time, internationally and domestically, appear to be running out. Still, Villas-Boas maintains that Lampard has a role to play in the ongoing evolution at Stamford Bridge, bit-part or otherwise.
"We have to make decisions," Villas-Boas said. "I can't go on every week or every three days to discuss the choices I take. Yes, Lampard is still an iconic player and a fantastic player. And, yes, still a key player. For sure, no doubt about it. He's been doing magnificently well for the team. He has started five games, played 90 minutes in four of them. We count on him like we count on the others."
Lampard will not be happy. He is a proud man. Yet he may have to get used to the bench-warming, as he has in three of the past four matches, and perhaps wait a while before making his 350th league appearance for the club. However, contrary to reports, he did not "storm away" shortly before the end of Chelsea's clinical dissection of Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. "Absolute nonsense," a Chelsea spokesman said. Lampard, apparently, disappeared into the dressing room to get changed into his training kit for the warm-down.
Storm in a teacup, more like, but Brendan Rodgers, the Swansea manager, knows Lampard well – from his time as the Chelsea reserve team manager – and insists Lampard will be hurting. "Frank's a great professional and, like every player, he'll be disappointed that he's not playing," Rodgers said. "When you've been a player like Frank, then it's hard to take. But whether he comes on as a sub or starts, you know you'll get 100 per cent from him."
Fernando Torres gave maximum effort on Saturday but, having nailed Chelsea's opener with a spectacular twist-and-turn shot, his delight at only his third goal in 25 matches spilt over into a red-mist horror challenge on Mark Gower, the Swansea midfielder. The Spaniard will receive a three-match suspension, during which he can ponder whether his scoring knack is really back or if it's just another false dawn.
"It was not a nice tackle," Gower reflected. "His feet came off the floor and there was intent. Thankfully, I managed to get most of my body out of the way. He's caught my ankle a little bit and I've got a little graze but it won't affect me."
Torres's early departure hardly affected Chelsea, though. Ramires, a pounding influence on the right of midfield, had already extended the lead to 2-0, three minutes earlier, and he added another midway through the second half. Ashley Williams nodded in a consolation for Swansea, a fair reward for their brio and bravado, but Didier Drogba came on to finish the job by scoring Chelsea's fourth goal.
Scorers: Chelsea Torres 29, Ramires 36, 76, Drogba 90. Swansea Williams 86.
Substitutes: Chelsea Malouda 5 (Mata, 59), Drogba (Anelka, 79), McEachran (Meireles, 83). Swansea Routledge 5 (Britton, h-t), Graham 5 (Lita, 59), Dobbie (Dyer, 71) Booked: Chelsea Cole, Mikel, Mata. Swansea Taylor, Monk, Dyer.
Sent-off: Chelsea Torres.
Man of match Ramires. Match rating 6/10. Possession: Chelsea 47% Swansea 53%.
Attempts on target: Chelsea 7 Swansea 4. Referee M Dean (Wirral). Att 41,800.
* Ahead of Chelsea's visit on Wednesday, Valencia surrendered their unbeaten record, losing a stormy match 1-0 at Seville on Saturday. Frédéric Kanouté put the hosts ahead before his team-mate Piotr Trochowski was sent off. Julien Escude then followed suit as Valencia were awarded a penalty but Ever Banega missed the spot-kick before the visitors then lost Aritz Aduriz for stamping. David Albelda and Bruno are injury doubts for the visit of Chelsea.Reuse content