Frank Lampard believes Chelsea’s only hope of Champions League glory lies with their old guard after their historic comeback against Napoli.
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Roman Abramovich’s desire to build a new, hungry young team at Stamford Bridge was called into question on Wednesday night as golden oldies Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba proved just how difficult they would be to replace.
All three scored in a thrilling 4-1 extra-time win that propelled Chelsea into the quarter-finals after they had looked doomed to crash out under Andre Villas-Boas.
While Villas-Boas alienated the Blues’ thirtysomethings by seeking to jettison them from the club, caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo has embraced them – literally after Wednesday night’s game – and has reaped the rewards.
Star midfielder Lampard, whose fractious relationship with Villas-Boas was one of the factors in the latter’s demise, warned Chelsea could forget about ending their long wait for Champions League success if they did not put a premium on experience.
"You can’t win these sorts of competitions without that," the 33-year-old said.
"You’re not talking about old boys whose careers are flitting out.
"They’re players that want to play, players that want to win. You can see that.
"When you’ve got that, if you can add to that with the youth and the quality we’ve got around the team as well then that’s a recipe and we have to carry on with that."
He added: "The amount of nights that Didi’s stood up, the amount of nights that John’s stood up, is what Chelsea are all about.
"If that can get us a result like that then we go with it."
Lampard refused to be drawn on whether Chelsea would have performed like they did on Wednesday night had Villas-Boas not been sacked.
He added: "You see it time and time again when managers change, the fortunes of the team change.
"That’s just the way it is – I don’t know why.
"It’s not whether it’s right or wrong.
"We weren’t performing consistently – that showed in the league – and the owner’s changed the manager.
"But in terms of players, you just have to try to give everything.
"You can’t ask players to be at their best throughout a season necessarily – because it doesn’t work that way – but a night like that shows the desire of players.
"And with that, we can go a long way."
Lampard was also coy on whether Di Matteo, who has made a sensational start to life in the Stamford Bridge hotseat with three straight wins, should be considered as a full-time successor to Villas-Boas.
"That’s for the club to decide," Lampard said of the Italian, who stormed the pitch at the final whistle, bear-hugging almost everyone in sight.
"He’s done very well and he’s had three wins out of three, so fair play to him.
"Robbie is a very ‘Chelsea’ man and he’s shown that with his heart on his sleeve.
"He deserves that celebration."
As well as saving their own skins on Wednesday night, Chelsea rescued the reputation of English football, which looked set to have no Champions League quarter-finalist for the first time since 1996.
The Blues’ hopes of continuing to fly the flag may depend on a last-eight draw tomorrow that could see them paired with anyone from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich to minnows APOEL Nicosia.
Lampard said: "The draw, we’ve not even thought about.
"We’re so happy that we’re in the next round, being 3-1 down after the first game.
"We have to believe and we do believe that we can beat anyone.
"It’s obvious that Barcelona are probably the strongest team along with Real Madrid.
"But we must enjoy the night and we must carry on because we do have ability in this team, particularly at Stamford Bridge on a night like that.
"No-one’s going to want to come and play here when we’ve got that about us."
(reopens) Some of Chelsea’s players celebrated the Napoli win with a late-night party in London.
Drogba, Ashley Cole, Juan Mata, David Luiz, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Jose Bosingwa and extra-time hero Branislav Ivanovic all headed to Aura nightclub in Mayfair, which is part-owned by QPR chairman Tony Fernandes.