With Frank Lampards recent withdrawal at half-time at Old Trafford as well as him being dropped for England’s friendly versus Bulgaria many pundits and fans are beginning to question the long term future of Lampard who for so long has been an automatic starter for both club and country.
The arrival of Andre Villa-Boas has led to a change in ethos at Chelsea and a slight tactical tinkering in midfield which has seen Lampard become less effective in Cheslea’s opening few games with only one goal and two assists to date.
Against United Lampard was essentially deployed as Chelsea’s furthest forward midfield player and on the whole was ineffective and largely anonymous other than a first half snap shot that you’d expect a player of his quality to score. The half-time change saw Mata move into a more central attacking position that he filled with real quality and craft, being at the heart of all of Chelsea’s positive moves. Meireles also benefited from the tactical change being able to get forward more freely, as he prefers to do.
Lampard’s Chelsea Record
Over the past 10 seasons Lampard has been the heartbeat for Chelsea, one of the clubs best ever players and one of the best Premier League players of his generation. Breaking records such as the highest goals scored by a midfielder, playing the most consecutive games as an outfield player as well as scoring 20 goals a season from midfield for five of those seasons. Lampard as well as his obvious goals contributes a huge amount of assists, in the 09/10 season when Chelsea won the league he scored 27 goals (22 of those in the EPL) as well as recording an impressive 20 assists (17 in the league) more than any other player in the league that season.
In fact for a player who scores so many goals its amazing to think that between 2006-2011 only two players have created more chances than he has in Europe’s top five divisions, Fabregas and Xavi neither of whom score anywhere near as many goals as Lampard. Most notably he was having played the most games, taken part in the most wins, scored the fourth highest number of goals and recorded the second highest number of assists.
How Can He Adapt?
Frank Lampard has been forced to adapt before. When Carlo Ancelotti came to Chelsea he initially tried to impose his own style and formation on the club, the typical Milan style 4-1-2-1-2, or diamond formation. This was not a formation Lampard was used to playing in, typically operating in a 4-3-3 or even under Ranieri and for England in a 4-4-2. Lampard either played at the top of the diamond or behind Deco which led to him not scoring from open play until late October 2009. There was as there often is with Lampard a huge amount of criticism levelled at him in the press at this stage but having adapted to Ancelotti’s style and with a movement to more of a 4-3-3 formation Lampard went on to record his best goal tally for Chelsea with 27.Scholes was an even more forward thinking player than Lampard in his prime yet enjoyed a remarkable renaissance later in his career as he adapted to become a deep lying midfield play maker.
Lampard has an advantage over Scholes in this role,and also started off playing as a DM for West Ham, where his style was more similar to that of Michael Carrick. Lampard as stated certainly possesses the technical ability to operate in this role and he would still always chip in with a fair few goals. His tactical awareness and discipline as well as decent tackling means there is no reason why he cannot reinvent himself in his mould. Lampard successfully operated as a DM in pre-season for Chelsea who won all of their 6 games with Lampard scoring twice. It should be noted that several other players who blossom as deep-lying midfield play-makers such as Pirlo or Xavi are not renowned for their tackling and thus it is not a pre-requisite to being able to play successfully in the role.
After Michael Essien’s long term injury, and more general doubts over his long term fitness, Chelsea are weak in the DM position. Romeu is just 19 and whilst reportedly a good prospect it may be too soon for him to make a serious impact this season. Mikel also looks to be out of favour with the signing of Meireles and whilst he has his plus points he often dwells on the ball too long and offers little, if anything in an attacking sense. Lampard could thus easily fill this role with Ramires along side him and Mata playing in the more offensive role in behind Torres.
The Future For Lampard
The future is thus not as bleak as some people would have you believe. Lampard is still a top player but at 33 he is coming towards the end of his career and does need to adjust his style of play in the same way players such as Scholes have done before him. With Mata’s good performance in behind Torres at the weekend it seems like he could start there next weekend against Swansea which may see Lampard either on the bench or deployed in a more defensive role alongside either Ramires or Meireles. Whether Lampard manages to secure a place in England’s 2012 squad, which I suspect he will, will very much depend on his ability to adapt this season and to thus shake off the unneeded criticism. Despite being 33 Lampard is still a top player and has plenty more to offer both Chelsea and England.