The impact of the changing of the guard at Chelsea will properly hit home in FA Cup semi-final with the interim manager, Rafael Benítez, expected to leave John Terry and Frank Lampard out of his lineup to confront Manchester City.
Both senior England internationals have been regulars for their club at Wembley since it reopened, with Lampard having started all of Chelsea's 11 visits to the arena and Terry missing only one Community Shield in that time. More strikingly Lampard has played in 32 of the 34 semi-finals or finals of the Roman Abramovich era, missing only the two League Cup semis of 2008 with a thigh injury, with Terry playing in 27.
Neither has missed a minute in an FA Cup semi-final or final for the club since 2006. The centre-half was denied involvement in the other seven through suspension and injury, meaning the pair have never previously been omitted when fully fit – Terry sat out the second leg of January's tie with Swansea as he continued his recovery from a knee complaint – from a tie at this stage of a competition since the oligarch's takeover at Stamford Bridge in 2003.
That scenario will now change with the two veterans, who only recently appeared undroppable, apparently accepting Benítez's policy of rotation over a draining season that has already seen 58 games in eight countries, with both expected to start on the bench as the manager selects what he perceives to be his strongest available side.
"I've been lucky enough to have a lot of great finals for Chelsea at Wembley and elsewhere and we've had some success there," said Lampard, who is still expected to leave the club under freedom of contract in the summer.
"But every game is different and none of us is sure we're playing on Sunday. Being considered an 'automatic selection' depends on how you're playing, what manager you have and the relationships you have with them, and things change. I don't think anyone is an automatic selection with the manager at the minute because there are lots of games and he's changing it regularly. So I'm like everyone else: I want to play every game but it's not possible."
Benítez, whose side returned from Moscow only a little before 2am on Friday, hopes to restore Ryan Bertrand at left-back after illness and will recall Branislav Ivanovic to the back-line, most likely in place of Terry, whose tumble down the pecking order is particularly notable given he will have only a year to run on his own contract at the end of the current season. Demba Ba, like Bertrand, trained and will compete with an in-form Fernando Torres for a starting position, though he could yet be kept back with a view to Wednesday's west London derby at Fulham.
Lampard, such a key member of the team who have claimed the FA Cup in four of the past six seasons, was substituted only in stoppage time against Rubin Kazan and Ramires and Mikel John Obi are likely to start in central midfield against the Premier League champions. "For any player, when they are out of the team, it's very difficult and especially when they've been working so hard," said Benítez, whose side visit Liverpool tomorrow week, after Fulham. Both games are potentially critical in the pursuit of a top-four finish. "But it is something you have to do.
"You have to explain to them. If it goes well, you say: 'Great rotation' and, if not, you say: 'Ooh, he made a mistake.' But when you go to this stage of the competition you must be doing quite well. The players have to be on their toes and be ready. Everybody has to be ready for the next game, in case we need someone else. On Thursday Ivanovic had to be ready to come in. It's the only way if you want to compete in every competition with the chance of success."
This game is the 38th game of Benítez's interim spell, and the first he will have coached at Wembley having claimed the FA Cup for Liverpool at Cardiff in 2006, and there is a craving to win a trophy in a campaign that has seen them compete for eight and, to date, secure none. Aside from the FA Cup, they will confront Basel in the last four of the Europa League following Friday's draw in Nyon, with Benítez relieved to have avoided a long-haul trip to Istanbul to face Fenerbahce. "Basel is not too far away, so maybe it's not a bad option," said the Spaniard. "But they're a good team and will be dangerous."
Regardless, their prospects on all three fronts are threatened by the onerous schedule, with Sunday's game their sixth in 16 days. City have actually played 15 fewer this season, with only three competitive games abroad, and were granted a clear week after last Monday's victory at Old Trafford. "They have a little advantage because we've had to travel, but we knew that. If we were successful, we'd have to continue playing games," said Benítez. "It's the same in every competition. Sure, it's certainly not easy, and I still want to finish in the top three and win at least one trophy.
"But I have to say again, I think I have done a good job. If you look at the big picture, analyse like a professional, you will see the job we have done. We reached the final of the Club World Cup, the semis of the Capital One Cup, two more semi-finals now, we're third in the league with a squad that is in transition, with young players. You cannot stop people [judging you only on the trophies that you win]. You know that in 10 years' time they will not remember 'they did this, playing with [Paulo] Ferreira and [Nathan] Ake [against Rubin Kazan]'. They will not remember that. But still you know what you have done with the players you had."
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