Frank Lampard says Chelsea players must fill in for Fernando Torres if he is banned
Kevin de Bruyne forced Jose Mourinho to snap but it is far more likely to be the issue of Fernando Torres that is irritating the Chelsea manager as he prepares for a game he cannot afford to lose.
Here he stands, only one match into his first European campaign back at the club and Mourinho cannot contemplate defeat against Steaua in Bucharest having lost the opener at home to Basle.
The Romanian champions should be the minnows in Group E but Chelsea lost here in March and Mourinho is still wrestling with the balance of his team. The last thing he needs is to lose Torres - already banned for one game at Norwich on Sunday - for an extended period just when the £50million striker looks to be his most effective centre forward.
Fed up: Jose Mourinho reacts during the pre-match press conference
‘If he does then we lose a player in good form and one of our main strikers,’ said Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s veteran midfielder, who was left to field media questions after Mourinho walked out in a huff. ‘If it happens, people will have to step up.’
It will mean a minimum three-match ban for Torres if the FA find him guilty of violent conduct for his ‘scratch attack’ on Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen last Saturday, although Chelsea will have the right to appeal.
There is always the chance the disciplinary panel could hand out an even stronger punishment if they consider the offence serious enough, as happened when Liverpool’s Luis Suarez was banned for 10 games for biting last season. Chelsea will know the outcome before kick-off.
Time to step up: Frank Lampard says Chelsea players must fill in for Fernando Torres if he is banned
Plenty to ponder: Mourinho has to deal with issues surrounding Kevin De Bruyne and Fernando Torres
As for De Bruyne, omitted from his squad for Bucharest, Mourinho will be irritated by the distraction after suffering the wrath of some fans for leaving out Juan Mata earlier in the season.
The De Bruyne decision, however, does not have quite the same impact, since the 22-year-old attacking midfielder has never been an established first-teamer and knew last week he would not travel to Romania. He has accepted Mourinho’s criticism and promised to work hard to change his mind, but this mature attitude may not last if he is still out of the picture by January.
Lampard urged his team-mates to put their trust in the manager he knows so well. ‘It can take two to three months for players to follow a new manager’s ideas,’ said Lampard.
Hitting out: Torres could face a longer ban for scratching Jan Vertonghen
‘If you look at us in the league, we’re in a good position. We have to win games in the Champions League having lost one, but that can happen. I really believe in the squad we have, the young players we have, and we have to take on board the new manager’s ideas. He’s a winner. It might be a matter of time in certain areas, but we believe we can do big things. But it’s no good talking about it. We need to do it.’
Lampard was in Rafa Benitez’s team beaten 1-0 here in March in the first leg of a Europa League last-16 tie. That was decided by a Raul Rusescu penalty on a night Benitez rested five players ahead of an FA Cup tie at Manchester United. Chelsea turned the tie around with a 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge.
Old guard: Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho shares a joke with John Terry and Frank Lampard
Ready for battle: Chelsea's players prepare to face Steaua Bucharest
Safe hands: Petr Cech takes part in a training session in Bucharest
‘We don’t expect an easy game,’ said Lampard. ‘We’re lucky to have played Steaua last season so we’re aware how good they are. If we turn up and think we just need to play to win easily, it’ll be no good for us. That’s not going to happen.’
One more factor darkening Mourinho’s mood here was the state of the pitch, which was re-laid three weeks ago. When Chelsea arrived at the stadium to train, groundstaff were still trying to soak up the excess water with sponge mats.
More rain is forecast today but the roof had been closed and will remain closed for the game.
BIG MATCH ESSENTIALS
‘Against the weather you cannot do much,’ said Mourinho, ‘but if the stadium has a roof, I think they have conditions to try to make the pitch the best possible. It’s also a responsibility for UEFA because they’re always worried with many things, and the pitch is a very important thing in a football match. I leave it with Steaua and UEFA and we will have to play on the pitch that will be presented to us.’
Chelsea should be strong enough to record their first win of the campaign. Steaua have just won their 24th Romanian title, but they have lost two key players since last season. Rusescu has joined Sevilla and centre half Vlad Chiriches went to Tottenham for £7m. On top of which, Chelsea will not be so complacent this time.