SEA manager Andre Villas-Boas insists Frank Lampard is still among the best midfielders around, despite his recent England snub.
Lampard was omitted against Bulgaria seven days ago and then garnered mixed reviews when recalled for the narrow win over Wales on Tuesday.
But Villas-Boas still believes the 33-year-old represents the cream of the top flight, as Chelsea prepare to resume their Premier League campaign at Sunderland tomorrow.
“This is one of the top players in England and in the Premier League,” he said. “He made himself available and he wants to keep performing club-wise to be performing for the national team. He has this kind of challenge to himself and I think all the top players have it – and I think he’s up there with the best.”
Lampard faces fresh competition for a Blues place from new signing Raul Meireles, who arrived on deadline day from Liverpool in a switch Villas-Boas called “an extremely good deal for us” and could make his debut at the Stadium of Light.
But the Portuguese said he was unlikely to renew interest in Tottenham’s Luka Modric in January.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech returns after a two-match injury absence, while centre-back David Luiz is in contention for his first start of the season. But talismanic forward Didier Drogba has sill not returned to full training after suffering concussion against Norwich last month and now faces a race to be fit for next weekend’s clash at Manchester United.