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Lampard's future hanging in balance

THE moment of truth for Frank Lampard will arrive this afternoon when Andre Villas-Boas reveals his team for Chelsea's Champions League match against Valencia tonight.

If Lampard's name is absent, his future as a serious player at Stamford Bridge would seem to be coming to a close. The mainstay of the Chelsea midfield for the best part of a decade, Lampard has started only one of the club's last four matches -- and he was substituted at half-time in that, with his side 3-0 down at Manchester United.

With his England career taking a similar course, Lampard has played 90 minutes only once in seven matches this month -- against Sunderland on September 10.

Once a prolific goalscorer from midfield (including 25 goals in Europe) he has managed just one this season, a penalty on the opening day against Norwich City.

Villas-Boas is acutely sensitive to questions about Lampard, just as he has been to inquiries about Fernando Torres' form. He knows it is a big call for a new manager to omit such a key figure.

Nevertheless, he was especially tetchy yesterday, maybe because a problem with their chartered Boeing 777 meant Chelsea left Gatwick three-and-a-half hours late, nearly all of which time was spent on the runway before BA found a replacement plane. For someone as meticulous as Villas-Boas, this would have been very frustrating.

When asked whether he had to reassure Lampard about his future, the Chelsea boss responded by asking his inquisitor how many Premier League matches Lampard had played this season. The answer is five, but the fact he was taken off at half-time in the last start, and left on the bench in the subsequent game, would seem more relevant.

Eamonn Dunphy's book 'It's Only A Game', long ago exploded the myth of players putting the team first.

Most footballers are insecure about their place; it is a natural condition of being in such a competitive environment and ageing players are more insecure than most.

It is thus inconceivable that Lampard is not concerned about a new manager's reluctance to give him 90 minutes.

Yet Villas-Boas insisted: "Frank is a magnificent player. An established, top-quality player, one of the most important at the club and will continue to be. He has nothing to prove to anybody. I think and hope he will continue to succeed at this club for the remainder of my years here." (© Independent News Service)

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Irish Independent