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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Frank Lampard 'proud and honoured' to take his Derby team 'home' to Chelsea

The former midfielder enjoyed 13 years as a player at Stamford Bridge but will try to mastermind another Premier League scalp for his young team

Frank Lampard won titles including the Premier League, FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League during his 13 years as a Chelsea player. Reuters
Frank Lampard won titles including the Premier League, FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League during his 13 years as a Chelsea player. Reuters

Maurizio Sarri has taken a break from his media duties thus far in the League Cup. A rest had a certain aptness ahead of Frank Lampard’s return to Stamford Bridge. It meant one Chelsea great was discussing another.

It is a moot point who is the club’s finest ever player. Gianfranco Zola may be the connoisseur’s choice. He was the artist. Lampard could get the statistician’s vote. He was the machine. “He is a legend,” said Zola, now Chelsea’s assistant manager. “Lampard is the best midfielder I've ever seen at attacking the box. That’s why he scored so many goals.”

There were 211 for Chelsea, a record that is all the more remarkable because he was not a forward. “His work in the box was exceptional,” Zola noted.

But the new Derby County manager ploughed a trail from box to box over the course of 13 years that brought 648 appearances, behind only Ron Harris, Peter Bonetti and John Terry for Chelsea. He played at least 48 games in 10 seasons. He scored at least 15 goals in nine.

All of which may make comparisons with the most efficient player of his generation unfair. But Ross Barkley has scored in three consecutive league games, wearing Chelsea’s No 8 shirt. Is he the new Lampard? “His scoring ability is coming on very well,” Zola said. “Ross likes to play more with the ball, passing. There are some differences with him and Frank.”

A younger contender is Mason Mount, the 19-year-old Lampard’s Derby have borrowed from Chelsea. He has scored five times already from midfield this season; like his manager, he can find the net from outside the box. “His quality, his talent and work rate means he can be very special,” Lampard said. “Even if he's having a game when he can't always be affecting everything with the ball, his work rate is outstanding.”

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Chelsea have granted Mount and Fikayo Tomori, their England Under 21 international defender, permission to play for Derby on Wednesday. “It's great for them, they've worked hard throughout the years to try and fulfil their dream, and it's part of their journey," Lampard said. Assuming a minor foot injury does not rule Mount out, eyes will be on him; Zola’s included.

“I came across him when we were analysing and I said: ‘This player is for us,’ the Italian said. “To send him to play in England showed it was good for him. I like him very much. He has mental speed to work things out quickly. Physically Mason has to improve, but he is getting on very well."

Like Tomori, he highlights the issue if the graduates of Chelsea’s prolific academy will be given the chance to establish themselves in their first team. Were they still at Stamford Bridge, they would probably rank in Chelsea’s third 11; minus the injured Eden Hazard and with Pedro and Olivier Giroud doubts, Sarri will probably field a second 11 that is still packed with experience.

Lampard has shown no such reluctance to blood youth, parachuting the Chelsea loanees into his team, often at the expense of some seasoned Championship stalwarts. Five players age 22 or under started when they knocked out Manchester United in the last round. The borrowed Liverpool youngster Harry Wilson scored a spectacular goal, while he and Mount both converted penalties in the shoot-out. Results have been married with an enterprising, attacking style of play. “To succeed as a coach, you have to think of other things and Frank has this ability,” said an admiring Zola.

It suggest Lampard’s managerial career, only 18 games old, could be long and distinguished. His playing days certainly were. He made a 13-minute cameo for Manchester City at Stamford Bridge in 2015, but this feels a different sort of reunion. He will receive a rapturous welcome.

“I realise how important Chelsea were in my life and what I owe for that,” he said. “I'll be proud and honoured to be taking my team to my home for 13 years.”