LONDON, December 18 – Fresh from putting Chelsea's Premier League title drive back on track, Frank Lampard returns to West Ham this weekend admitting he fears for the future of his relegation-threatened former club.
Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola was one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players but that will not stop Lampard and co. from trying to push his second-from-bottom squad a little closer to the drop as they seek to consolidate their three-point lead over Manchester United at the other end of the table.
By the time Chelsea kick off at Upton Park on Sunday, United could be level with them on points provided Sir Alex Ferguson’s injury-hit squad collect all three points from their trip to Fulham 24 hours earlier.
Lampard, whose penalty clinched a nervy 2-1 win over Portsmouth in midweek, said: "It’s difficult for West Ham at the moment. They have a lot of financial difficulties and have had to sell a lot of players.
"I don’t want to see them do badly at all — it is difficult but then it is a difficult league."
The win over Portsmouth’s was Chelsea’s first in five matches in all competitions but did little to suggest Carlo Ancelotti’s side have fully recovered the composure and confidence that has deserted them over the last few weeks, notably in their defending of set pieces.
Chelsea are hopeful that Didier Drogba, whose absence with a back injury was felt on Wednesday, will be available on Sunday. But it must be a concern for Ancelotti that the striker will depart for the African Nations Cup next month at a time when United traditionally hit their stride.
Lampard is acutely aware it was a mid-winter cocktail of injuries and lost form that ensured Chelsea conceded last season’s title to their rivals in the north.
"We had a really bad time around this time last year but when Guus Hiddink came in (as temporary manager) we were in the best form by far of anyone in the League. We can do that again.
"We’re having a patch at the moment where we’re not pulling away from teams when we might do and every free kick and corner seems to drop to them in a funny way.
"We are being punished every time and it is just a phase we’re in. We’re going 1-0 up and then not pushing on like we were a few games ago. It’s a problem."