Rafael Benitez believes Frank Lampard can play an important role in reversing our recent poor form, but will likely start Saturday’s game at Sunderland on the bench.

The midfielder returns to the squad today after recovering from a calf injury sustained in late October against Shakhtar Donetsk, though Benitez considers this afternoon’s encounter at the Stadium of Light as too demanding for the 34-year-old.

‘He’s not ready yet. He is training but the tempo of the game and match fitness is different so he will need some time,’ said the interim first-team coach.

‘He needs to come back little by little, but he cannot start the game.’

Lampard’s injury coincided with our drop off in form, though Benitez considers it more coincidence than a reason for our struggles.

‘It’s too simplistic, because some games we were winning without John Terry and without Lampard,’ he said. ‘They are important players because they have experience and character, but at the same time they were winning with other players involved.’

Benitez is of course well aware of Lampard’s qualities, having managed Liverpool against us 20 times in four seasons, and discussed where the player’s return will help the side.

‘Lampard has experience and he’s not scared when we are in possession. He can find players between the lines, get into the box and score goals,’ said the Spaniard. ‘He is a different kind of midfielder to the ones we have available at the moment. Some of them can work, can pass, maybe a bit of everything, but Frank can make a difference and it’s good for me.

‘We have dynamic players with good movement, so if he can link with them fine. He can play a bit higher because his timing getting into the box is very good.

‘He can be important at set-pieces. He won’t be box to box like 10 years ago, but he will be more important when we are in possession, to understand the game is a key part of the game too.’

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