RAFAEL Benitez has refused to promise record-breaking Frank Lampard a starting place in the Europa League final.
The Blues take on Benfica in Amsterdam on Wednesday night and travelling fans would be delighted to see Lampard line up in midfield after he broke Bobby Tambling’s club record of 202 goals against Aston Villa on Saturday.
Lampard has more than just a sentimental claim to a place in Benitez’s XI, though, with his brace enough to turn a likely defeat at Villa Park into a 2-1 win.
The England international has been used sparingly by Benitez since his arrival as interim manager and his appearance in the side against Villa appeared to be an indication he would sit out the final.
A late hamstring injury to Eden Hazard – who joins John Terry (ankle) in being a major doubt – may open the door for Lampard, but Benitez was giving nothing away. “You have to play with 11 players and they have all been working very hard for me,” he said. “The main thing for me is to pick the right team. Frank has been a really good professional when he has been playing and even when not playing to help the team.”
Benitez would have been forgiven for casting an envious glance towards the Holte End on Saturday as his opposite number Paul Lambert was given a rousing reception by supporters, despite the club remaining in relegation trouble.
Chelsea’s crowd have made little secret of their hostility towards Benitez and are unlikely to be satisfied even if he adds a European title to a top-four finish.
“It has been a big success, 100 per cent,” he said. “[But)] it was very clear when I arrived that being Liverpool Football Club’s manager in the past was not ideal for some fans.”
Despite the acclaim he received from the stands, Lambert cut a frustrated figure after defeat. Christian Benteke gave Villa the lead when he beat Petr Cech at his near post but Lampard fired a shot from the edge of the box then swooped from six yards to turn the game.
Victory for Villa would have secured safety but now they must wait for tomorrow’s match between Wigan and Arsenal for their next chance to celebrate. If they do need a result against the Latics on the final day of the season they must do so without 19-goal striker Benteke, who was sent off for two yellow cards.
Regardless of those concerns, the Scot took time to thank the crowd for their backing during a turbulent first season at the helm.
“I’ve always said the crowd have been fantastic since I’ve been here,” he said. “I think they’re knowledgeable and see what we’re trying to do. They’ve been right with it from day one.”
As for the all important match in midweek, Lambert added: “I’ll be watching the game, but we know we can’t influence anything.”