Chelsea coach Frank Lampard turned a selection crisis into a golden opportunity for half a dozen players who have struggled to make Premier League appearances this season but starred in the 4-0 thrashing of Everton on Sunday.
Lining up at kick-off were three veterans who have failed to even make the substitutes’ bench at times recently - Spaniards Pedro and Marcos Alonso and France striker Olivier Giroud.
They were joined by midfielder Ross Barkley and goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga who have recently languished on the sidelines after struggling to live up to their big-money moves to Chelsea.
Giroud, standing in for injured first-choice striker Tammy Abraham, scored Chelsea’s fourth goal while Barkley provided passes for two other strikes.
Lampard also gave a first Premier League start to 18-year-old anchor Billy Gilmour in the absence of experienced midfielders N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic, who were both injured, and Jorginho who was suspended.
Two more teenagers who joined Chelsea as youngsters - Faustino Anjorin and Armando Broja - came on in the second half to make their league debuts, following on the heels of other young prospects who have broken into the team this season.
But Lampard paid particular tribute to the returning former stalwarts who had endured frustrations earlier in the season.
“That is what we need. That’s football, whether you’re four months from the end of your contract, no matter if you were out of the team for a month,” he said.
“You have to train every day, full pelt. You have to be a brilliant team mate and when you come in you have to try and contribute.”
The Chelsea coach praised 33-year-old Giroud for focusing on the job even when a move away from Stamford Bridge was blocked by Chelsea’s failure to sign another striker in January.
“I’ve got complete respect for him for that and now he’s playing really well on the pitch,” he said.
Lampard added that he was not getting carried away by Chelsea’s recent return to form, including a 2-0 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round on Tuesday which featured many of the players involved in Sunday’s thumping of Everton.
He warned his players that the battle for the fourth Champions League spot - which Chelsea currently occupy - remained alive.
“I don’t think we are there yet,” Lampard said. “To think that we are there and to think that we are over the issues that we have had here at home... would be over-confident.”
Lampard cheers his returning heroes as Chelsea hammer Everton