Frank Lampard believes we are now in a period of the season where the development of a winning mentality throughout the squad can prove decisive.
The Blues, having only returned from our Champions League game in Istanbul in the early hours of yesterday [Thursday] morning, now face a London derby against a struggling Fulham at Craven Cottage tomorrow.
Juggling both Barclays Premier League and European commitments is certainly not easy, and Lampard, with three titles, as well as Champions League and Europa League medals to his name, stressed the importance of ensuring players remain focused.
‘It’s the crunch time when you need to get a winning mentality, a ruthlessness that whether you play good or bad you get results,’ said the Blues midfielder.
‘Against Everton we didn’t play particularly well but we had that bit of desire that took us over the line and we can’t lose that. If you sit off or relax for a game you’ll lose at this stage of the season. If you look at Fulham, they’re fighting for their lives so if we’re not at it they’ll get a result.
‘It’s a local derby and the fact they’re struggling might make it more difficult for us because they’re so desperate for points, maybe it would be better if they were in mid-table and cruising.
‘What we need to do is prepare; we can’t moan, we’ve got a fantastic, big squad, fit young players and we have to get ready and go again.
‘We just have to get our league hats on very quickly and we got them on as soon as we got in the dressing room after the Galatasaray game. We prepare now for Fulham and go there with a real desire to win the game.’
Last Saturday’s late show against Everton, with Lampard’s free-kick right at the death now credited as his goal, kept us on top of the Premier League table, but with only four points separating the top four sides there is little margin for error.
Jose Mourinho has continually expressed the opinion that, for his young side, qualification for next season’s Champions League remains the priority, and Lampard feels his manager is simply providing an honest assessment of how he sees the race.
‘We’re just going game by game at the minute. I think he’s looking at our team and thinking about the youthfulness of it,’ explained the 35-year-old.
‘In the last two years we’ve been about 20 points off the pace and that’s not a coincidence. We had a real winning mentality here with a strong squad for a few years and we probably lost a bit of the week-to-week consistency, so it’s a case of re-building that.
‘He’s probably just saying it how he sees it, I think he’s walked back in to a completely different squad of players from the one he had before, a very talented lot but, as I said before, with a lot of youth in it.
‘Generally, with teams that win the league you do need a lot of nous and experience, and we’ve got a lot of young players. They’re still growing so who knows? It’s obvious that we’re right up there at the minute.’
Lampard has certainly come a long way during his time at the club; from being one of the younger members of the dressing room on his arrival back in 2001, to now being one the less experienced players look to for advice and encouragement during difficult periods.
‘I’ve enjoyed all parts of my career, it was great when I was young and we had a fantastic period here, not just with Jose but over the years with other managers in between,’ he said.
‘It’s great to have him back because I get on great with him personally, and just to be part of a club with a manager who I respect a lot and looking around the dressing room, a lot of young players who are playing exciting football.
‘I certainly try to speak on the pitch and in training, that’s the responsibility of an older player, me and John Terry particularly. Sometimes they don’t need help, they just play brilliantly, but other times they do need help. The lads are all very respectful and that works both ways.’
One of those younger players, Nemanja Matic, looks set to feature during tomorrow’s game at Fulham having been ineligible for the Champions League match against Galatasaray in midweek. Lampard has started alongside the Serbian on a few occasions since he moved back to Stamford Bridge in January, and has been impressed.
‘He’s been very good; he’s improved, I think we knew that from playing against him in the Europa League final,’ said the club’s all-time highest scorer.
‘He’s strong, good on the ball and he moves the ball quickly when he’s on it. I think he’s a great signing for us; he’s only 25, which is the perfect age bracket for us.
‘I knew he had ability, at the time it was difficult for him because he couldn’t get in the team and, at the age he was, 21 or 22, it was probably the right move for him.
‘He had a great two years at Benfica and he’s come back as a strong acquisition for us. I think he’s going to be a very good player for years to come.’