Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is confident that Frank Lampard will be available for Sunday's visit to Liverpool. Lampard has missed the last two months after hernia surgery and while tomorrow's Champions League tie with Spartak Moscow will probably be beyond him Ancelotti expects the midfielder to return at the weekend.
"Lampard started training with the team this week," said the Italian. "I don't think he will be ready for Wednesday [tomorrow] but for the next game in the Premier League, against Liverpool."
Lampard has not played for Chelsea since the 2-0 win over Stoke City on 28 August. His absence is the longest of his professional career and is sharply at odds with his reputation for resistance to injuries. Lampard holds the Premier League record for consecutive games played, starting 164 games in succession between October 2001 and December 2005.
But during his absence Chelsea have demonstrated the possibilities of a post-Lampard future and managed to preserve their excellent record, taking 16 points from a possible 21 in the Premier League and nine from three games in the Champions League.
Ancelotti praised Lampard's recent replacement, Yuri Zhirkov, saying: "Now he is playing continuously and he deserves to play because he is playing very well." It was Zhirkov's left-footed cross that allowed Branislav Ivanovic to head Chelsea's winner at Ewood Park on Saturday, and Ancelotti praised that aspect of the Russian's game.
He said: "I hope he will maintain this condition and feeling for the team. He is working for the team, which is the most important thing. He is showing fantastic ability with his left-foot. He needed last season to adapt in a new country and this season he doesn't have a problem."
However, Ancelotti is still keen for Lampard to return soon. Chelsea have a busy November, with seven games, before a very challenging December. They face Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal in three consecutive league games over a 15-day spell that could give them a decisive lead in the title race. Lampard's experience might prove crucial.
"I hope he will come back quickly because we need to have this kind of player," Ancelotti said. "Now the team without Lampard is doing very well. But when he comes back I think we have a stronger team. We have a lot of games, we have a game every three days and all the players will be involved."