Mourinho backs Lampard to bounce back

Not so, at least according to Jose Mourinho, who believes that whatever happens to his Chelsea players while on international duty should not affect them when they resume the defence of their Premiership title today.

Frank Lampard was labelled a slow starter by the England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, prior to that defeat in midweek, but his club manager is convinced there will be no disastrous after-effects to the midfielder's confidence.

Indeed, the Portuguese went so far as to make quite an untypical statement, claiming an under-par Lampard was better than a replacement at the top of his game.

Overall, it was a week for Chelsea's England players that started averagely and got steadily worse, with Joe Cole, the goalscorer against Wales, being left out against the Irish and with Glen Johnson leaving England Under-21 duty, apparently because of a thigh problem.

However, Mourinho believes his England international players will not show the strain of the past week.

"I am very happy with Frank Lampard," he said. "I respect every opinion of every national manager because for a few weeks or a few days the players belong to them. When the players belong to them they can make their comments because at that time they are not my players - they belong to England, Ireland and France and so on.

"I don't want what happens to my players on international duty to affect what they do with Chelsea. Geremi [with Cameroon] is almost in the World Cup and Didier Drogba [with the Ivory Coast] might not get there but I don't want that to affect them.

"I want them to go to the national team and forget Chelsea and then come back to Chelsea and forget the national team.

"After a match like the Northern Ireland game it should not affect them. They have to bounce back and they can start doing that by beating Sunderland."

Returning to Lampard's influence on the west London side, Mourinho added: "My view on Frank is that he is a very important player for me and he plays against Sunderland. I prefer Frank not playing 100 per cent to another player who is at his top level."

Suggestions that Lampard was not at the level that saw him voted Football Writers' Player of the Year last season were due to his becoming a father were also rebuffed. Mourinho said: "With a kid you become better if it is a kid you want very much."

There were reports this week that Johnson had been sent home before England's Under-21 match in Germany on Tuesday because of a sloppy attitude, but that was denied by Chelsea yesterday, who said he had a thigh strain. He will not be in the squad today.