It was in unusual circumstances that Frank Lampard addressed the media ahead of our trip to Villa Park on Sunday, and the boss answered plenty of questions on the changes that have taken place since he last prepared his squad for a Premier League match.
Lampard was in the media room at Cobham as usual, but spoke to the press via a Zoom call on his laptop, with journalists electronically ‘raising their hand’ to get their question across.
Lampard provided injury news, spoke about a fit-again Ruben Loftus-Cheek and considered the advantages of bigger benches and more subs, but first, he highlighted the fresh challenges that await…
‘A lot we have already encountered to try and get the players fit for these games,’ said Lampard.
‘They were off for a long time. We have to try and guard against injury while getting as fit as we can. I’m making the players as aware as I can of the challenges that are coming up and things that look different.
‘One thing that has remained the same is the players on the pitch realising what’s at stake in these games and performing at the best of their ability to try to win for Chelsea. That’s the focus. I expect us to be ready and focused. We know how much is stake so we have to start well.’
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Chelsea will be playing behind closed doors for the first time competitively
‘We all feed off atmosphere inside packed stadiums, what it does to your adrenaline and how that makes the game run. It’s the beauty of the Premier League, but we have to inject that in ourselves. The players, individually and collectively, have to be a bit selfish about it. They must want to perform at their highest level.
‘There are big things at stake in this game. There is a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of competition for the top four places. We are in that battle. We need to be at our best in these games to amass enough points to get us there. The relegation battle is similar.
‘This is the Premier League. There is always this kind of jeopardy, and it’s about how we focus on our job at hand.’
The boss considered if the rest of the season will be similar to tournament football
‘I get that thought process. It is very unique. Tournaments you have had a season and a build-up and your bodies are ready for it. What is very new is we need to see how the players are. We have trained very well, we have had some games behind closed doors, but nothing represents the Premier League. That will be a very interesting point from my point of view, how we as a team perform in the first game.
‘Then it will be about recovery, the next game, recovery, the next game, and using the squad. We are going to have to use all the players to keep the team as fresh as we can.’
Lampard will be without a couple of players
‘Fikayo Tomori has a muscle injury, probably from the stresses of trying to get fit quickly. He has an injury that will probably keep him out for 10 days or so.
‘Callum Hudson-Odoi had a small injury earlier in the training process, and he’s not match fit, albeit he’s physically fit now.’
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is available again after a lengthy injury lay-off
‘He is looking fit. He’s taken part in our training games. He’s worked really hard, Ruben, to get back. It was a very difficult injury he had and we’ve really missed him this season. He has got himself into a position where he’s fit, but we obviously haven’t had enough matches really for him, so he will have to be managed definitely in terms of the minutes he plays to not overstrain, but he’s looking good for this game.’
Villa were the beneficiaries of a technological failure on Wednesday
‘I have sympathy for the referee on the pitch. We pretty much take it for granted that goal-line technology works. It’s worked thousands of times as we’ve all been told since. In the future we have to make sure VAR is across it and make double sure. It’s one of the reasons VAR is there: to back up decisions.’
Lampard will be able to make five subs for the first time, and call upon a bench of nine
‘It’s a very good thing considering the circumstances, and a bigger bench is something that should stay the course. We work with players all through the week as a squad, you want to try and get young players on the bench. Everyone has academies and big squads, so trying to get more young players involved will be a great thing.
‘In the short term, you saw the other night the energy levels and injuries, so the five subs are crucial, for player care as well. We want to make sure we keep enough players fit.
‘The message to the players is: whether you start on Sunday or now, we are going to need everyone in this squad. There has to be a togetherness. The games are going to look slightly different. Subs are going to be absolutely crucial. The problem I have is a nice one and the players have to perform when I ask them to. They look ready.’