Belfast Telegraph

Carlo Ancelotti is frank as he gets set to unleash

The return to full fitness of Frank Lampard is a timely fillip for Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti — but with it comes the realisation that there are no more excuses now for his team's slump in performances.

Lampard is to play for the champions tomorrow against Premier League leaders Manchester United, his first start since he underwent surgery on a hernia in August.

Lampard's brief appearance as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend ended a run of 20 games on the sidelines, the worst injury spell of the 32-year-old's career. He managed 13 minutes against Spurs and then 60 of a practice game on Thursday.

How Chelsea have missed him. Lampard scored 27 goals last season and also laid on 18 for his team-mates, meaning he had a hand in 45 of the club's 142 goals. He returns to find Chelsea a pale imitation of the team he left in August, without a win in five Premier League games although there were real signs of improvement in the second-half display at White Hart Lane.

Lampard's comeback follows John Terry's return from injury and Didier Drogba's recovery from malaria and means Chelsea are now pretty much at full strength, all except centre half Alex. The old line about injuries will not now wash. They have managed to pick up just six points from their last seven games, the same run of form as bottom club West Ham United.

Ancelotti said a defeat to United would not be a disaster, but it would leave Chelsea potentially nine points behind Sir Alex Ferguson's team, as long as they win their game in hand against Blackpool.

“I think the difficult moment is finished,” he said Ancelotti.

“The return of Lampard is very important news for us. He will also bring more dynamic movement from midfield and obviously his experience and character to the team.

“We don't need him to be a hero. We just need a player who is capable of scoring 20 goals from midfield. He has maintained his skills and will be very important.”

Ancelotti said victory tomorrow over United would ‘be fantastic for the atmosphere in the squad’ but denied that defeat would effectively rule Chelsea out of the title race.

“It is too early to say that it could be decisive,” he said.

“There are five teams fighting for the title, so there will be a lot of important games.”

Ancelotti is under immense pressure to oversee a return to winning ways, but suggested that results are not the most important way to judge a manager. He claimed England is becoming more like Italy following the recent sackings of Chris Hughton and Sam Allardyce, but said results are only part of the equation.

“I don't think winning is the most important. I know that a lot of managers are judged just on results, but not the most important things,” he said.

“What matters is the philosophy of the team, the club, the atmosphere, a lot of things.”

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