Chelsea have not only secured passage to the Round of 16 in the Champions League already, but have also secured top position in the group. And that makes the final group stage game, tomorrow at home against Krasnodar, a mere formality and a chance for heavy rotation throughout the team.
Unfortunately, Lampard’s choices will be slightly restricted in attack. Callum Hudson-Odoi has joined Hakim Ziyech on the list of injured, with the young winger also picking up a hamstring injury this weekend.
"Hakim Ziyech is going for a scan this afternoon so I will have more information on his hamstring injury tomorrow. He’s out. Callum Hudson-Odoi is also out. He had a hamstring problem in training yesterday too.
"Ziyech came to us at the back-end of last season and trained a lot. The injury [in pre-season] was disappointing and he missed some weeks, but straightaway he showed his intensity to work in the gym and on the training pitches as soon as he was back, and that was why he hit the ground running when he came into the team.
"I hope this is a minor injury. The feeling he had since the game is that it doesn’t feel too bad, which I’m hoping means we’ll be talking a couple of weeks, but we will wait for the scan. I’m not worried too much, he’s a fit lad, and he’s shown he will be an important player for us."
That’s especially unfortunate news for Hudson-Odoi, who’s played well in his last two starts, against Sevilla last week and Rennes the week before. In fact, he had started three of our last four Champions League matches and would’ve surely done so tomorrow as well.
Fortunately, those two players are our only injuries of note, which means that Lampard can rotate to his heart’s content elsewhere. And that includes goalkeeper, where Edouard Mendy has started 11 in a row and 13 of our last 14. The last time Mendy couldn’t play was against Southampton, which is the last time Kepa Arrizabalaga played. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper is set for a chance at redemption.
"Kepa starts. With goalkeepers they have to be patient. Edou has been a regular pick with his form. This game is a game for Kepa who is training brilliantly well, acting brilliantly well.
"These periods will happen in players’ careers. Sometimes they make you stronger and better at the other end. Kepa’s been very supportive with Edou. What I see is someone who is supporting him, and training really well which is the main thing I look at. They have to push each other and I see that. His reaction has been spot on."
We’ll also get a long awaited start for Billy Gilmour, who’s now fully recovered from his knee surgery in the summer. Gilmour may be in line for a loan in January to help him complete the recovery, though that’s not necessarily a given yet.
"Billy will start tomorrow. I value him a lot in this squad. You can say we have a lot of options in this squad but that can quickly change as you’ve seen with the winger situation. So I don’t want to think about that [Gilmour leaving on loan] until the window opens."
Neither Jorginho nor Mateo Kovacic started over the weekend, which might mean that they get the nod alongside Gilmour — although they are both just one yellow card away from a one-match suspension in the competition, which may cause Lampard to pick otherwise.
Another option might be Kai Havertz, whose form has been a bit mixed both before and after his bout with COVID-19. Lampard has no doubts about the young midfielder, but giving him a chance to play himself into form may be a good option.
"He’s fitting in really well. He had really strong symptoms of Covid. He was ill and struggling for quite a while. Not all the players have had it like that. Some have been symptom-free. We had to factor that in and that’s why it took two weeks before we started him.
"Going into when he fell ill his form was fantastic. He was playing some really good stuff in the no.8 role, but Covid cut that short. I have no worries long-term, in fact the opposite. He is going to be a huge player for this football club. He has all the attributes and personality and attitude. He is going to be a top-class player.
"We have to understand some of the best players that graced the Premier League found it hard for quite a long time, and I think Kai has actually been very good."
While giving players a chance to stretch their legs, gain some minutes, and recover some form is important, it will also be important to complete our group stage campaign with a win, and keep the 16-match unbeaten run in all competitions going. Winning is a habit, after all.
"Certainly no injuries, and some minutes for people who have not played as much as they would want and to show they deserve to play more, and to gain some more match fitness.
‘You can’t switch the idea of winning on and off, so I want to see the right attitude in how we approach the game."
- Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC
Let's wrap up the group stage on a positive note!