'I want Lampard to finish career here' -- Di Matteo
Roberto Di Matteo takes charge of only his 30th competitive Chelsea game tonight and, in understanding the methods that have brought the Champions League, FA Cup and now a three-point Premier League lead, the case of Frank Lampard remains instructive.
The basic message -- that Lampard can no longer be sure of his place and must accept a less attacking midfield role -- is virtually identical to Andre Villas-Boas' policy last year.
Yet, while Villas-Boas seemed only to alienate Lampard, similar home truths from Di Matteo are being accepted.
The key, quite clearly, is in his communication and, in also outlining a desire for Lampard to finish his career at Chelsea, Di Matteo's delicate man-management was again evident yesterday.
Lampard has not started the Blues' past three matches, including the 2-1 win at Arsenal, but is expected to return for tonight's Champions League match against FC Nordsjaelland.
"His future is very strong at this club and I hope he stays for the rest of his career with us," said Di Matteo.
"With the amount of games that we play, at the back end of last season we had conversations. I tried to get the best out of him by not playing him in all the games, to make sure that he could be ready for the games that he played in.
"This year it looks the same. We have so many games to play, we have a good squad, and playing every three days is difficult for any player. He has played magnificently, last season and also the beginning of this season. There are absolutely no concerns about him."
Lampard has previously pointedly contrasted Di Matteo and Villas-Boas for how they communicated his omission from key matches.
Being dropped clearly does not sit easily with Lampard and, despite no progress on extending a contract that expires next summer, Di Matteo does appear genuinely confident that his vice-captain accepts and understands the selection policy.
"He's an intelligent man and I have a very good relationship with Frank," said Di Matteo.
"We talk, and as much as nobody likes to be on the bench or not playing and being disappointed, I hope he understands. His attitude has shown that he supports the team, and that's very important."
Aside from the return of Lampard (pictured right), few changes are expected from the Chelsea team that beat Arsenal so impressively last Saturday.
While describing tonight as "crucial" and a game "we ideally have to win", Di Matteo is clearly alert to the hazards of this Champions League group. He is also well aware that, in seven away Champions League games last year, Chelsea recorded only one win.
"It is a difficult group -- basically three teams that probably have a chance of qualifying," said Di Matteo.
"Ukraine champions Donestk, Italian champions Juventus and us. This is crucial. It is probably the most important game in this group. We dropped points at home at home against Juventus.
"We are slowly trying to play in a different way from last season and Saturday's result gives the team the belief that even away to Arsenal, the way that we want to do it is possible."
Nordsjaelland should represent a rather simpler test but, on what is their home Champions League debut, they will not lack motivation for what is arguably the biggest game in their short 21-year history.
The shock winners of the Danish SuperLiga were probably unknown to most of the Chelsea squad before the Champions League but, in Andreas Laudrup -- son of Michael -- they do at least have one very familiar name.
Laudrup, who is a Danish U-21 international, also plays as an attacking midfielder but featured for only nine minutes of their Champions League tie against Shakhtar last month and is again expected to start from the bench.
"The Champions League is what you have dreamed of since you were a child," said Laudrup.
"I cannot run from my last name, but it is important for me to prove to that I am my own person. I'm Andreas, and this is based on what happens on the field, you must think I'm good and not because of my last name." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
FC Nordsjaelland v Chelsea,
Live, Sky Sports 2, Setanta Irl, 7.45
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