LONDON • Declan Rice was heavily rumoured to be the final piece of the jigsaw to cap Frank Lampard's £200 million-plus (S$358 million) overhaul of his Chelsea team in the summer.
The move failed to materialise but according to the British media, the England midfielder remains top of the Premier League team's wish list and there is talk of a £70 million bid when the transfer window opens next month.
Rice will get a further chance to impress his suitors as Chelsea host West Ham in the top flight today, with the 21-year-old returning to Stamford Bridge, where he turned out for the club's academy before being released as a youngster.
The Hammers had no hesitation snapping him up and he has gone on to become not only an ever-present for David Moyes' side - he featured in all their 38 league games last season - but also a regular starter for Gareth Southgate's England team.
While the Blues are keen on bringing him back to west London, Lampard claimed there were no regrets over the decision to let him go in 2014, adding Rice deserved "personal credit" for his impressive breakthrough at West Ham.
The Chelsea manager said: "He's a fantastic player for West Ham and England so fair play, because his journey there after leaving Chelsea and going to West Ham is a good story to hear.
"In terms of from our end, I certainly wouldn't use the word, 'regret' - our academy is one of the best in the world and you look at our first team now with the players that we have produced who are in and around that squad...
"It's not an exact science to pick players but the academy staff do brilliantly here."
As a former West Ham academy graduate who went on to star for the club before making his big move to Chelsea, this local derby used to take on greater significance for Lampard but he is now more concerned with addressing their mini-slump.
Chelsea are undefeated in their past five Premier League games at home, scoring three or more goals in four of them, yet are coming off successive league defeats for the first time since last December.
Today's opponents also sat in ninth spot before yesterday's games, just a spot below the Blues, and will overtake them with a win.
Following his mammoth transfer outlay, a title challenge is expected of the hosts but Lampard wants to temper expectations.
"Everyone was talking about us going on a great run and we should win the league," he said. "Part of my reasoning to dampen that was other teams have probably been together longer and built for longer which builds confidence within the group of players that they can deal with things better in games.
"The realism is we are not a Liverpool of last year or a Manchester City of the year before where you can just go out and win, win, win, win, win. In periods, you have to be ready for some tough moments.
"The confidence has to remain because we were playing very well and the table is very tight at the top level. We are much closer than we were to the top last year. We just need to remind ourselves of the great things we were doing before these two games."
Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James are injury doubts, while Moyes will give a late fitness test to Michail Antonio.
CHELSEA V WEST HAM
Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 4am