Premier League

Di Matteo dismisses Lampard rumors

Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard (left) and manager Roberto Di Matteo.
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Roberto Di Matteo insists Frank Lampard's Chelsea future remains "very strong", despite renewed speculation over whether the midfielder's glittering Stamford Bridge career might be drawing to a close.

Saturday's 2-1 Premier League win at Arsenal was the third successive match in which Lampard was not in the European champions' XI, with Ramires selected alongside John Obi Mikel in central midfield.

Lampard was injured for Tuesday's Carling Cup thrashing of Wolves, but his omission at the Emirates Stadium suggested the 34-year-old midfielder could start fewer big games during the final year of his current contract.

Chelsea have been left badly exposed by top-class opposition when Lampard has played an anchor role alongside Mikel this season and manager Di Matteo admitted after the Arsenal win that he deliberately picked two genuine holding players.

Running alongside all this is talk Lampard will not be offered anything longer than a one-year contract extension and that Los Angeles Galaxy are ready to make him Major League Soccer's latest big-name signing.

Lampard looks certain to return for Tuesday night's Champions League game at FC Nordsjaelland and Di Matteo said: "His future is very strong at this club. He's a very important player for us.

"I've had conversations with him, yeah, which I do on a regular basis with the players. I like to exchange opinions.

"He's very supportive of the team when he's not in the team. When he's in the team, he's a great performer as well.

"From that point of view, we're fortunate to have a very strong squad with international players, so that's going forward with a busy schedule, it's important we use these players."

Despite Saturday's admission, Di Matteo insisted Lampard could adapt from a box-to-box goalscoring midfielder to an anchorman.

He added: "He's been playing that role, but I don't think I've ever taken those other things away from him. Those are his strengths, but you sometimes need discipline in that role. It's important for the balance of the team.

"But he's played there magnificently at the beginning of this season and last season as well."

It seems unthinkable Lampard will sit out a fourth straight game tomorrow, especially when Chelsea's midfield are unlikely to find themselves overrun by the Danish champions.

The biggest danger for the holders appears to be complacency ahead of a match they should win comfortably after throwing away a two-goal lead in their Group E opener against Juventus.

Di Matteo certainly appeared to think so, saying: "For us, this is probably the most important game in this group stage.

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"We drew the first game, so it's important we can gain points away from home. For us, it's a crucial game.

"I want the team to be focused and it'll be a strong team.

"There may be a couple of changes to bring in some fresh players, after such an intense game on Saturday.

"But it'll be a strong team. A win would certainly help, and that's what we're aiming for."

Di Matteo has certainly done his own homework on Chelsea's opponents, who won the Danish title for the first time in their short history last term.

The Farum-based club have been forced to switch their Champions League matches to FC Copenhagen's much larger Parken Stadium, something that further emphasises the gulf between them and Chelsea.

It is UEFA's mission to close that chasm by virtue of Financial Fair Play (FFP), something which Di Matteo backed wholeheartedly.

"We as a club are in favour of FFP," he said.

"We're doing everything to be within those new laws and rules, and I think we're on course for it.

"You see every season, every year, some club going into administration or out of business, which is not good.

"The amount of debt the clubs have in England, but also in Europe, is unsustainable. So everyone welcomes these new rules."

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