John Terry and Frank Lampard are facing up to the prospect of starting Chelsea's Europa League final against Benfica next week on the bench, with the former England captain unlikely to be offered an immediate chance of redemption after missing last year's Champions League showpiece through suspension.
The London club's interim first-team manager, Rafael Benítez, will only formalise his selection for the game at the Amsterdam ArenA after Saturday's trip to Aston Villa, where victory will effectively secure Chelsea a top-four finish and, therefore, meet the Spaniard's principal objective. Yet Benítez has confirmed Lampard will start that game at Villa Park, suggesting a team-mate is being rested with the Benfica match in mind, while stressing competition for places at centre-half is currently fierce at the club.
That will have serious implications for Terry, who had started successive games against Basel and Swansea for the first time since February but has now sat out the last three matches. The captain may well start against Villa though that, too, could affect his involvement next midweek. "The competition in this position is really hard here," said Benítez. "[Gary] Cahill, [Branislav] Ivanovic, David Luiz are all doing well, too. Now we have four centre-backs who have to compete, and they are doing well."
Both Lampard and Terry were recently omitted from the starting lineup for the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City, an indication of their recent slip in standing. Asked specifically whether Terry would start against the Portuguese given the anguish he had endured missing last year's final, following his dismissal for kicking Barcelona's Alexis Sánchez in the semi-final, Benítez said: "I haven't decided yet [on Terry]. What I can say is that Lampard will play against Aston Villa. I cannot say anything about the final. We have to play another game and, after, we will decide the team for the final. That's it. The only player I can guarantee will be picked is Lampard against Villa. After, we will see about the final."
Lampard is perched one shy of Bobby Tambling's club record of 202 goals and, while he is expected to be offered a new 12-month deal at Stamford Bridge, no offer has as yet been put to a player whose current contract expires at the end of June. Benítez was asked whether he might consider starting the 34-year-old midfielder in the final as a gesture for his service to the club over the years, and offer him the chance to overhaul Tambling's achievement. "If he can score against Aston Villa, it will be easier for me in the last two games," he said. "Frank is a great professional, a very good player. His fitness is quite good, he's working hard. I will do what I have to do to win games. If, at the same time, I can help Frank, I will do it."
The England midfielder's future will only be determined at the end of the campaign, with the prospect of José Mourinho returning to the club likely to enhance the veteran's chances of being offered new terms. "I think it would be a great thing for the club," said Lampard. "He is a successful manager and would be great for any club. He is certainly one of the greatest managers, if not the greatest, in world football.
Those sentiments were echoed by Mikel John Obi, who was signed by Mourinho during his first spell at the club and who has worked under seven different managers in the years since. "And now another one is coming in … the club is crazy, but we have to keep doing our job," said the midfielder. "We're the players. The board and the owner make the decision as to whoever comes in. Mourinho did buy me. He is a fantastic guy, a great guy, and a fantastic human being on and off the pitch. He is someone who listens to the players, lifts them, knows when to put his arm around them.
"Everywhere he goes players tend to work for him and fight for him. If he's the next one coming in, he's someone I know, who a few of the players know. From the first day he tells you what he wants from you. If he's the one that's coming in it's going to be a massive, massive plus for us.
"Sure, he's a very hard guy to work for, but very hard in a very good way. He brings out the best. You don't want to sit back and relax. Mourinho doesn't let you relax. He doesn't let you sit back and say: 'I'm there now.' He wants to push you to your limits."