Belfast Telegraph

Mata backs 'legend' Lampard to stay at Chelsea

By Ben Rumsby

Juan Mata has backed "legend" Frank Lampard to force his way back into the Chelsea side after the England midfielder again vented his frustration at being dropped.

Lampard claimed manager Andre Villas-Boas had yet to tell him why he had been left out of the team for the two biggest matches of the Blues' season - Tuesday's Champions League win over Valencia and last night's controversial Barclays Premier League victory against Manchester City.

The 33-year-old also reiterated his desire to play every game but vowed not to quit the club before his contract expires at the end of next season, amid reports he is wanted by the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Lampard did his hopes of a recall no harm by smashing in the winner from the penalty spot in last night's 2-1 victory, which ended City's unbeaten start to the Premier League and hauled Chelsea right back into the title race.

And summer signing Mata insisted his fellow midfielder still had plenty to give the club for whom he has now scored 178 goals.

"Lampard is a legend here, a legend who keeps on providing a lot of good to the club," Mata said.

"He is a great presence to have in the dressing room and, for me, he is a standard-bearer for the entire world of football.

"I have only known him a few months but he is a great guy and he has been very accommodating to all the new players coming in."

The 23-year-old added: "He has the experience to remain calm, even when he's not playing, to know that there will be times when he will play because there are so many games.

"He still has a lot to give. He will score a lot of goals and play a lot of games this season, I'm sure."

Chelsea's victory completed a perfect nine days for Villas-Boas and his players, whose relationship had been called into question prior to their victories over Newcastle, Valencia and City.

Mata said: "The team has shown in the worst moments that we are united behind the manager.

"Now that we are in a run of results where things are more positive, everything is easier, but we have shown that we are together with the manager and the technical staff, like a family."

Victory at Wigan on Saturday would move Chelsea to within four points of City, who host Arsenal the following afternoon.

From 12 points behind two weeks ago, the Blues are now looking like mounting a genuine title challenge.

Mata said: "We have to keep trying.

"We have not won anything just by beating these teams, but we have to keep fighting to win games because we are still in with a chance of a lot of trophies.

"It was a very important win against the league leaders, and it gives us a lot of confidence.

"We have won three vital games, against Newcastle, Valencia and now this one, which has broken the negative run we were in and now we can hopefully start a good sequence to keep on rising up the table."

Chelsea will take even more heart from the way they bounced back from conceding a goal to Mario Balotelli inside two minutes last night.

Mata said: "It was a very emotional night, which started incredibly badly with Balotelli's goal and we kept fighting, kept struggling, and we managed to turn around the game against the league leaders and a team who had not lost a game before this season.

"That gives us a lot of belief."

Mata was also at the centre of one of several flashpoints last night, with City midfielder Yaya Toure flicking a boot at the Spain winger and pushing him in the face midway through the first half.

Referee Mark Clattenburg decided to take no action over the first incident and although he did not see the second, the Football Association today decided no retrospective charge against Toure was warranted.

The FA were also satisfied a flare-up in the tunnel post-match was nothing more than verbal exchanges between a jubilant Chelsea and a City side possibly still smarting that Clattenburg failed to award them a first-half penalty and sent off Gael Clichy after the break.

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