Having indicated that Ruben Loftus-Cheek will be in the squad for the Premier League weekend’s curtain-raiser at Stamford Bridge this lunchtime, Frank Lampard has explained how the midfielder could be used as an impact substitute against Tottenham if he is selected on the bench.
The 24-year-old has not played this season after suffering an Achilles injury last May but has stepped up his rehabilitation in recent weeks, training with the group and featuring in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Cobham.
He was due to play in a competitive Premier League 2 fixture for our youngsters last week but Lampard revealed why that didn’t materialise.
‘He had a small issue so we felt it wasn’t right to risk him in a game at that time,’ said the boss. ‘It was tiny but it was one of those where we wanted to control him more rather than have him in a 90-minute Under-23s game so we came away from that.’
Loftus-Cheek is now ready for a place in the matchday squad and Lampard feels he could have a part to play as fourth host fifth in SW6.
‘He still needs match fitness,’ he explained. ‘By putting him in the squad, we’re hoping he can be an impact if he has to come on because I can already see his abilities out there and what he can bring. I knew them already but to see them first-hand in training has been nice.
‘Can he sustain that over 90 minutes at the moment? No, so we’ll have to work towards that but if he’s on the bench then he’ll have to be ready. If something happens in minute one, you’d maybe consider not doing it but if there is a chance for an impact then we know the quality he can bring.’
The Blues have picked up 12 points from our last 10 league games and Lampard knows we must recover momentum in order to maintain our place in the Premier League top four. However, he accepts such spells are to be expected, particularly with so many young players forming a key part of the squad for the first time this season.
Coping with the physical and mental challenges of a demanding schedule across multiple competitions is testing for the most seasoned veterans but these are trials that will only benefit our youngsters in the long-term, according to Lampard.
‘This period is what all clubs suffer in the Premier League, taking away Liverpool’s incredible performance this year and Man City in the last couple of years,’ he continued. ‘A lot of clubs will suffer periods and individually you will suffer periods of form.
‘As a young player, you have to understand even more and be more sensitive to the fact that can affect confidence because they have just been thrust into the team this year and it’s new. The eyes of the world are on them and that’s a big deal.
‘It’s a test for the younger players, with the physical nature of the league and over the course of the season it probably was always going to come, that individuals would have little dips, so how they come out it will certainly be the making of them.
‘How they work, how they train and the focus they have will bring them through. I believe in all of them, whether they are in dips or not. I think they’re all going to be top players for this club but they have to keep pushing and they have to be strong in moments like this.’
Mason Mount is one player Lampard has been working closely with to rediscover some of his early-season form but the boss indicated he had no concerns about the 21-year-old’s resilience, insisting his quality would shine through.
‘There’s competition in that area of the team so it’s not an easy selection for me week to week. I know Mason well through working with him and I know that he’s tough on himself. Probably since the last Tottenham game, he will want to have had more output in terms of assists and goals because that’s what he’s capable of.
‘He’s fine and he’s very aware of that. I have very honest conversations with Mason and I know he wants the best for himself. I see it out there every day so even if those goals and assists aren’t coming now, he’ll fight himself through that.’
Much has been made of Tottenham’s injury problems in the build-up to the London derby, particularly the absence of key attackers Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, though Chelsea also have a number of players sidelined including N’Golo Kante and Christian Pulisic. Despite the talk of absentees, Lampard knows Spurs remain tough opponents.
‘We all feel the same as managers,’ he explained. ‘When we have big players injured, you know how much you miss them but they also have a big squad.
‘We had five huge ones in pre-season and now we have four or five at the moment so we all feel that. I understand his feelings because you want all your top players fit but it doesn’t make me feel they’re any weaker. Whatever Jose [Mourinho] says, I know we’ve got a tough team coming tomorrow.’