FRANK LAMPARD says Chelsea deserve praise for putting Declan Rice on the road to stardom.
The England midfielder, 21, skippers West Ham tomorrow against the club that showed him the door when he was just 14.
And all eyes will be on a player with an £80million price tag, who has been strongly linked with a Stamford Bridge return for more than a year.
Blues boss Lampard — who left the Hammers for West London when he was 23 — reckons Rice only got where he is now because of seven years grounding at Chelsea.
He said: “Declan is now playing at such a high level at West Ham, and sometimes when players go on their other paths, the club should also take some credit for producing them.
“You see all over the Premier League and the Championship there are lots of players who came through the Chelsea system so that’s a real positive for us.”
Chelsea will kick off just a point ahead of their London rivals following successive losses at Everton and Wolves.
But Lamps is more inclined to pat his players on the back than boot them up the backside because everyone has been dropping points.
He said: “We got punished because we dropped our levels by 15 or 20 per cent and in this league that happens.
“It’s clear the confidence has to remain because we were playing very well and the table is very tight at the top. We are much closer than we were to the top last year, so we just need to remind ourselves of all the great things we were doing before the losses.”
Lampard added: “The realism now is that we are not a Liverpool of last year, or a Man City of the year before who just go win, win, win — we are in a progression and have to be ready for some tough moments.
“That’s why I kept talking about us two or three weeks ago when everyone was talking about how we should win the league.
“My reasoning for putting a dampener on that was there are other teams that have been together longer, which brings a confidence among a group where they can deal with things better in games.
“It is part of where our progression is at, we have some younger players and as time goes on they will get stronger in those moments. That’s why you have to take lessons when you lose.”
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