Less than 24 hours remain before the Champions League anthem is played once again at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea take on Valencia in the group stage opener on Tuesday night.
For the man in charge, having been part of Chelsea teams that experienced plenty of amazing highs and some heart-wrenching lows for many years as a player, there are few things that can match up to the challenge of playing (or managing) in the most prestigious club competition in the world.
“Well I will be proud to do it. I had multiple incredible nights in the Champions League, and some bad ones, but it is the ultimate in club football for me.
“There is something about nights at Stamford Bridge, something about the Champions League music and I want to experience it on this side of the fence. I will be proud to take the team out, of course. But aware of what matters is the results, what matters is starting the group well against tough opposition. I am excited.”
Valencia have had a rough start to the season on and off the pitch, with political tensions within the club leading to poor results and eventually the sacking of player- as well as fan-favourite head coach Marcelino. But Chelsea will still need to be wary, especially as we’ve seen many times the cliched “new manager bump” happen in situations such as these. Valencia may have gotten absolutely destroyed by Barcelona, 5-2, over the weekend, but for Lampard, that doesn’t necessarily speak to their overall ability and quality.
“I did see the match. It is not always easy to analyse a match against Barcelona because they play a particular style which makes it difficult for everybody, not just Valencia. I have also analysed more games, it is sometimes more difficult when a manager changes because you are waiting for a change of style.
“I didn’t really see that at the weekend in terms of how they set up. I expect similar which is a team that are very organised and hard to break down. It is a team that can be very dangerous on the counter-attack. Particularly with their two strikers and their wide players. I expect similar and I expect a tough match.”
Like Wolves over the weekend, Valencia look to hurt teams on the counter-attack, so just like on Saturday, Chelsea will need to be wary of pushing up and over-committing carelessly, especially with the adrenaline of the occasion coursing through the veins of such a young team.
With the team staying together the night before, Lampard will be emphasizing the need for utmost concentration and attention to this occasion as we continue to look for the first home win of the season in any competition.
“I haven’t spoken to them in detail on that. We are meeting up tonight at the hotel so we will have plenty of time to prepare. It is certainly worth a word or two because it is different in its nature.
“I would say the main thing that I noticed as a player was that your concentration levels and focus throughout in every game has to be absolutely spot on. That’s not to say you can get away with things in the Premier League. The higher level of player in the Champions League and different style of game can sometimes surprise you.
“The team that travel for this game are fantastic on the counter-attack and they can hurt you in one second when you feel like you are controlling the game so it will be that focus throughout that will be the main point.”
After a season’s absence, Chelsea’s return to the biggest stage in club football will be highly anticipated. Having been drawn against Ajax, Valencia, and Lille, the group is certainly winnable and qualification for the knockout rounds will be expected.
For Lampard, that’s the minimum target, and he’s hoping the players will rise to that challenge.
“I think the target is to qualify from the group. It is a tough group but I have enough belief in the players who have been here and played in it, as well as the younger players, who at the moment are in good form and have the talent. Hopefully they will blossom in the Champions League as we go along.
“As a player, I thought the same that there is two parts. The group part pre-Christmas and I have belief we can get through but we have to be aware it will be tough. Once you get through, if you get through, then it is up for grabs in the next part of the year. I am confident as we should be but very aware of the dangers in a tough group.”
- Frank Lampard; source: Football.London