On the eve of his first Champions League knockout game as a manager but against an opposition club he knows well from his playing days, Frank Lampard is clear that tomorrow evening’s game at Stamford Bridge we be a challenge on a new level for his team.
The boss was speaking at the stadium 24 hours before the Round of 16 first leg against German giants Bayern Munich, and although he explained his squad is in a good place following the morale-boosting way we went about beating Tottenham at the weekend and the battery-charging winter break earlier in the month, he believes we will have to raise our game once again.
‘The performance versus Tottenham was first class off the ball, the team is feeling strong and feeling focused but we have to deliver,’ noted Lampard.
‘My job is to look at the opponent and see if we can find weaknesses there. I understand if people call us the underdog because the Bayern team is so strong and they have so much experience, but the underdog is there to change things around. We all love an underdog story and they are some of the best stories in sport. I am focused on what it is going to take to win these two matches [against Bayern].
‘A big part of my job tomorrow is to explain to the players that over two legs we need to be at our maximum. We need every detail, every box ticked in both games.
‘Bayern Munich are an incredible side with the ball. If we have to suffer without the ball we have to suffer, so that’s our job over these next two games.’
The boss reported on the injuries in his squad, with Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kante and Callum Hudson-Odoi all ruled out of the game although the third of those is not far away from availability. Pedro however does return to the squad having missed the Spurs game with a small injury, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was back on the bench on Saturday after his long absence, is again included.
Lampard added that the performance of Olivier Giroud at the weekend has given him a lot to think about.
‘It is a tight turnaround and the effort put in during a London derby against Tottenham was huge, but the way he played was fantastic, not just the goal but the link he had with Mason Mount and Ross Barkley off the ball, and the work he did which was huge in the way we defended from the front. I know I can rely on him.’
Bayern’s centre-forward Robert Lewandowski is joint topscorer in this season’s Champions League on 10 goals and, according to Bayern’s manager Hans-Dieter Flick when he spoke to the media today, in the form of his life.
‘Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he has been playing consistently in Europe for many years,’ responded Lampard to that thought.
‘His goalscoring record and everything about him from a distance is top class. So of course he is going to be a huge threat. He is not the only one but he is the spearhead. We will have to be at our best. There have been games this year when we have been good, we travelled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball, and in the league this year as well, but when you get to the knockout stage of the Champions League against a team as good as Bayern Munich, the levels have to go up everywhere.
‘This is a two-legged game versus a strong team, and in the Champions League your concentration levels have to be top in both games.
‘I’ve got no doubts about starting any of the young players,’ Lampard added. ‘I trust in all the players who have been part of the squad this year.
‘They’ve earned trust in the way they’ve played. It changes slightly when it gets to the knockout stages and I’ll speak to all the players about what that means.’