London: Frank Lampard will start his first match for more than three months when Chelsea host Manchester United on Sunday as manager Carlo Ancelotti looks to kick-start the champions’ title defence.
Lampard has not started since August because of various groin issues but played the last 12 minutes of last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.
After he came through an hour of a practice match on Thursday with no ill-effects, Ancelotti told reporters on Friday: “He will start. It is good news because this team missed Lampard, his ability to score from midfield and his experience.
“It is very good news and he can help us in the next games because he is fresh and has strong desire to come back to play.”
Brazilian Ramires has featured heavily in Lampard’s absence but the 18 million pound summer signing from Benfica recognises the importance of his team mate.
“I hope to play every game, that’s my way of thinking as a player,” he told the club’s website.
“However, I am very happy that Frank is returning. He is a big player and all the players have a lot of confidence in his ability during the game. It is a great boost to have him back.”
Having bagged more than 100 goals in the last five years, Lampard’s scoring touch is obviously a big loss but of arguably greater impact has been the absence of his driving motivation.
With John Terry and Michael Essien also missing matches, Chelsea appeared to lack leadership during their recent poor run that has brought a return of just seven points from 21. Leaders United are now three points clear of them.
All three players featured against Spurs last week, however, and it was no coincidence that the champions began to look more like their old selves during an impressive second half.
The recovery could not have come soon enough with a tough trip to Arsenal, also very much in the title race, coming after United.
Ancelotti has taken real heart from the Spurs match, which would almost certainly have been a victory but for Didier Drogba’s stoppage-time penalty miss.
“I think the difficult moment is finished, there was a different atmosphere in the training ground this week and I hope that in the game we are able to do our best,” said the Italian.
“We’ve been able to train with all the players. They have more confidence and to play against Man United can be a fantastic motivation for us. We can use this game to move on.”
It is already looking like a key clash. Were United to win it and then take three more points from their game in hand against Blackpool, they would surge nine points ahead of the Londoners.
However, Chelsea have not lost at home to United in eight years, winning six and drawing four of their 10 Stamford Bridge meetings in all competitions.
“Last year was good for us because we were able to win both games against them,” Ancelotti said of the 1-0 home win and 2-1 success at Old Trafford that went a long way towards securing the title by a point.
“It is too early now to say it could be a decisive game but it is an important game, also for your confidence. If you are able to beat Man United it is good for the mentality, character and personality of the team.”