Frank Lampard at pains not to rouse David Luiz’s lust for Chelsea revenge

Do not make David Luiz angry. It is rarely a good idea, as Chelsea have discovered to their cost, and Frank Lampard looked as though he could see the value in treading carefully as he prepared for Sunday’s derby at Arsenal, when he will come up against his one-time teammate and the player he sold in August.

David Luiz has previous for coming back to haunt Chelsea. When the club sold him for the first time in 2014 to Paris Saint-Germain, he marked his return to Stamford Bridge the following season with a late equaliser in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. The central defender’s bullet header forced extra time, from where PSG would progress, and it was a similar story at the same stage of the competition in 2015-16. David Luiz played in both legs and once again PSG went through, albeit with a bit more comfort. Chelsea would re-sign him in August 2016 – perhaps to stop him from hurting them.

As he prepared for this game, Lampard at first refused to say anything about the decision to sell David Luiz to Arsenal. “I’m not going to answer that in the buildup to this game,” the Chelsea manager said. He would later elaborate but what was clear was the desire to avoid antagonising David Luiz; to keep under wraps a subplot that could become a key part of the occasion. David Luiz might be erratic but he remains capable of pulling out a high-level performance. “What I don’t want to do is look like it’s a personal question going into a game against a player I respect and played with,” Lampard said.

It is delicate because the bottom line is that Lampard came to feel that David Luiz would not be a fit for the dynamic he wanted to create in his Chelsea squad. Lampard was resolved to play a high defensive line and to give opportunities to the 22-year-old Fikayo Tomori. Would keeping David Luiz have helped either of those aims?

Moreover, if Lampard could not guarantee the Brazilian a regular starting place, would he have become a problem? The 32-year-old is a long way from being the shy and retiring type, as Lampard knows from playing with him, and he fell out spectacularly with a previous Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, in 2017-18. In the end a parting of the ways made sense to Lampard and David Luiz, with the latter also motivated by the challenge at Arsenal.

The pair are not close friends yet there is professional respect, which comes from having lived intense experiences together, most notably Chelsea’s Champions League final triumph against Bayern Munich in 2012 – a game for which David Luiz had been an injury doubt. “David played with half a hamstring in the final – I know that,” Lampard said. “He got himself fit when he was under pressure with the injury. I will always respect that. And he moves on.”

David Luiz and Frank Lampard of with the Champions League trophy after the 2012 final victory over Bayern Munich.

David Luiz and Frank Lampard of with the Champions League trophy after the 2012 final victory over Bayern Munich. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Lampard talked at the time of David Luiz’s transfer about having had “honest conversations” with him and, to the manager, it was “just a decision that was made”. It was not intended to be a flexing of his muscles or an attempt to make an early mark at the club.

“I wouldn’t say I thrive on having the ultimate responsibility as the manager,” Lampard said. “It’s the job. I’m not a control or power freak but, if a decision needs to be made for the benefit of where we are at, that is my job.”

Lampard has made them before and he will make them again. The one to listen to offers in January for the out-of-favour Olivier Giroud appears to be close. “I suppose when January comes we can probably officially start talking about it more,” he said.

Sunday’s derby pits Lampard against a manager who is even more inexperienced than him in terms of Premier League games. Mikel Arteta, who previously served as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City, took charge of Arsenal for the first time in the draw at Bournemouth on Boxing Day.

“He has worked under one of the greatest, if not the greatest, so I don’t buy the whole ‘Inexperienced One’,” Lampard said. “Who’s to say a manger is better or worse if they are in their first or 50th year of management? Arteta would have seen the daily challenges at City but he would have observed them more. Now it’s his turn to make those decisions himself.”

As with David Luiz, Lampard wishes Arteta well – just not on Sunday, when Chelsea will hope to bounce back from their shock home defeat by Southampton on Boxing Day.

“Arteta was a very good player, very intelligent, very technical,” Lampard said. “He was not a fist-pumping kind of leader but he was a leader and it looks like he could be well suited to management. I do wish him well because I understand the strains and the pressures of it.

“I certainly found that it helps being an ex-player of the club [as Arteta is at Arsenal]; knowing some faces behind the scenes, the values and standards. It can help in the early stages but after that it probably levels out and your work is your work. The honeymoon doesn’t go on for ever and it shouldn’t do. I’m sure the fans will have a feeling for Arteta and want him to do well.”