Wednesday

Chelsea Legend Appears To Be Rapidly Approaching His Sell-By Date

Can Chelsea continue to ‘carry’ 35-year-old
Frank Lampard?

Writing off Frank Lampard can be a dangerous game, and one that’s been played before. On previous occasions he’s managed to prove people wrong, but his performances so far this season have been particularly poor. Goals aren’t always the best way to judge a central midfielder, but Lampard is an exception; two from 19 is a pretty poor return for him, but crucially, the rest of his game has also dipped. If you were to judge Lampard’s football on pure numbers, he’s had a hugely successful career. He is Chelsea’s leading goalscorer with 205 goals, the highest scoring midfielder in Premier League history with 155, as well as chalking up the second highest number of assists with 94. You can’t take anything away from those achievements but there’s always been a bit of a question mark over the rest of his game. If you’re a winger or striker, the most important thing is the end product – goals and assists. That’s what you’re in the side for. For a central midfielder, these should be seen as a bonus. A midfielder’s main job is to control a game, and this is where Lampard often comes up short. For some reason, his goals and assists often means people gloss over his inability to control games. The same thing happens with Ryan Giggs when he plays in central midfield, while Raul Meireles was another who often contributed very little but popped up with key goals. In his prime Lampard was always helped by the 4-3-3 formation Chelsea employed, which played to his strengths – an incredible engine and great finishing ability. It didn’t matter if he wasn’t defensively strong or couldn’t dictate a game’s tempo, as he had Claude Makelele and Michael Ballack alongside him. He could focus purely on getting in and around the opposition penalty box. Another huge asset was having someone like Didier Drogba who could hold the ball up for Lampard, or take multiple defenders away with him. Over the last couple of years, Chelsea’s change of system and his ageing legs have meant he’s played deeper. He’s been given more defensive responsibility, asked to try and control the tempo of games, whilst still occasionally getting forward. To some extent he’s adapted, and was still able to contribute goals last season. But against top quality opposition, his weakness in this system gets found out. A prime example was the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich – until the penalty shoot-out, he was totally anonymous and part of the reason Bayern controlled the game. In last season’s FA Cup quarter final against Manchester United, Chelsea only started gaining a foothold after he was replaced by John Obi Mikel – the Nigerian’s greater defensive nous allowing Ramires to push on. Against Newcastle at the weekend, Lampard was again played in the double pivot. His pass completion rate was only 72% and he made a grand total of zero tackles – both are unforgiveable for someone playing in that role. He could quite easily have popped up with a crucial goal, been hailed a hero, and his performance would have been forgotten (by the media at least), but surely Jose Mourinho should now realise there are better options for that role. He is unlikely to feature against Schalke on Wednesday night and in Ramires and Mikel the Blues have players offering more energy and stability. They also have Oscar who has been tipped for that position – not only does he have a good defensive workrate which Mourinho loves, but his creativity could give Chelsea something they don’t have in the middle of the park. David Luiz is another option, although like Juan Mata, he doesn’t seem a Mourinho favourite. Somebody else who might want to consider a change is Roy Hodgson. Leaving Lampard out of the World Cup squad may seem unthinkable and would be a sad way to probably end his international career. But the 35-year-old basically plays the same deep-lying role as Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick – and those two are far better equipped. There doesn’t seem any point in taking all three of them to Brazil, when a spot could be given to a different, more unpredictable type of player such as Ross Barkley or Ravel Morrison. Hodgson should also bear in mind that Lampard flopped at his two previous World Cups in 2006 and 2010 – not only were his performances poor, but even his trademark goals were missing. And to be honest, if Lampard isn’t scoring, he’s not offering anything others aren’t.

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