Frank Lampard's continued importance to Chelsea will effectively be reinforced on Thursday when he sits out the second leg of the team's Europa League tie against Sparta Prague, with Rafael Benítez holding the veteran back for Sunday's daunting visit to Manchester City.
The interim manager was glowing in his praise of the England midfielder in explaining his decision ahead of the trip to the Etihad Stadium, and stressed that Lampard will go on to break Bobby Tambling's club record of 202 goals before his contract expires in the summer. The 34-year-old's fine finish against Brentford on Sunday earned him his 199th goal for Chelsea, and his fifth in six matches for club and country, but he will recharge his batteries on Thursday with the hosts 1-0 up from the away leg.
"Lampard will not be in the squad against Sparta Prague because we have to manage it a little bit," said Benítez, whose side lead the tie courtesy of Oscar's late goal in the Czech Republic last week. "If he can score a lot of goals it will be fantastic for him and will be fantastic for us.
"Everybody knows that he is close to the club record. I am sure they will try to help if they have a chance. If we have a penalty, he can take it, and things like this. But the main thing is he's doing well, scoring goals.
"For anyone it would be great, but for a midfielder to be on the verge of 200 goals for a club … He's a player who likes to get forward, and his accuracy is really good with his shots. He'll score those 200 goals. I can see how he trains and what he's doing, and I can see him scoring more goals. He'll score more than four or five before now and the end of the season. But, for now, we have more competition in midfield and that's good for me. It's a problem, but a good one because we have too many games, so to have many players available is good."
It remains to be seen whether Chelsea's stance on Lampard's presence at the club beyond the end of the current campaign shifts in the coming weeks, though a dialogue is expected to open between the club's chief executive, Ron Gourlay, and the player's representatives. That could potentially yield the offer of a new deal but, at present, Lampard is still assuming his 12-year career at the club will draw to a close in the summer. "That's a club situation," said the centre-half Gary Cahill. "But Frank's phenomenal, works hard on his game, is in great form at the minute banging goals in for club and country, and given how hard he works it's no surprise that he's been at the top of the game for so many years. It'd be great if Frank is around, but we've just got this season to concentrate on and he's playing terrific football at the moment."
Benítez will also rest Branislav Ivanovic on his 29th birthday, with Demba Ba cup-tied, as he seeks to progress into the last 16 of the competition – where they will meet either Steaua Bucharest or Ajax – before turning attention to City. Chelsea are unbeaten in nine European home games with Mikel John Obi expected to return to the starting lineup after his exertions at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Chelsea probable 4-2-3-1 Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Bertrand; David Luiz, Mikel; Ramires, Hazard, Moses; Torres.
Rest of squad: Turnbull, Blackman, Hilário, Cole, Ferreira, Ake, Mata, Oscar, Marin, Benayoun, Saville.
One booking from a suspension: Ramires.
Sparta Prague (4-5-1; probable): Vaclik; Zapotocny, Hybs, Svejdik, Pamic; Vacha, Matejovsky, Jarosik, Krejci; Lafata, Kweuke.
Rest of squad: Cech, Vidlicka, Polom, Kaderabek, Holek, Prikryl, Balaj, Kadlec, Bednar.
One booking from a suspension: Zapotocny, Matjeovsky, Husbauer, Kadlec.
Referee: A Stavrev (Macedonia).