|The Lampard Issue
Frank Lampard is a name that Chelsea fans have gotten accustomed to seeing in Chelsea’s starting XI for years now. He has been a guaranteed starter and for good reason: he has always given his all while playing for Chelsea. However, his place in Chelsea’s starting XI has been under scrutiny for a while now, mostly due to indifferent form.
It’s not just this season that Frank has found himself coming in for criticism. Many questioned whether he would be able to fit into AVB’s style of play last season and indeed he struggled to adapt to the young manager’s more attacking approach. But a resurgence in form under Di Matteo during the latter parts of last season saw him become a regular starter once again and he was an integral part of Chelsea’s Double-winning campaign. But poor form has seen him start Chelsea’s last 3 matches (excluding the fixture against Nordsjaelland) from the bench, with Di Matteo preferring to play Ramires in the double pivot alongside Mikel.
A lot of people have been quick to blame it on age. Indeed, Lampard is no spring chicken. At 34, he is one of the oldest members of this current Chelsea squad. But is it so easy to forget all of his performances under Robbie last season? I don’t recall anyone mentioning his age back then. Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I don’t think age has anything to do with Lampard’s recent form. Rather it’s the fact that Chelsea have changed their formation and style of play that has in turn required Super Frank to adapt to a different role that has brought about this dip in form. Here’s why.
Until very recently, Chelsea played a 4-3-3 formation that required 3 types of midfielders in the middle of the park: a defensive midfielder, a play-maker and a box-to-box midfielder. The best example of the perfect 4-3-3 would be Barcelona. Xavi is deployed as a play-maker, Sergio Busquets provides defensive cover and Andres Iniesta does the majority of the running. In Chelsea’s formation, Lampard was usually deployed as the box-to-box midfielder. It was his job to run forward and provide that extra option in attack. The fact that he had an eye for goal made him all the more useful. However, the 4-2-3-1 is slightly different in the sense that you only need a play-maker and a defensive midfielder in the middle of the park. Lampard has been deployed as the play-maker and he has struggled.
The main reason Lampard has struggled is because he is still playing as if he were the box-to-box option in the 4-3-3 formation. He passes the ball sideways to Mikel (sometimes even backwards) and then immediately makes a forward run into the box, finding himself in an advanced attacking position where he can either provide that killer pass or score himself. While that was exactly what he was supposed to do a few years back, that’s simply not his job anymore. He needs to sit deep, pass the ball forward and bring the likes of Hazard, Mata and Oscar into the game and let them weave their magic. That simply hasn’t happened. Against Nordsjaelland in the Champions League, he provided the assist for the opening goal which was brilliant. However, what most people failed to notice is that he was, yet again, miles away from his position. He had almost slotted himself into the hole behind Torres.
However, I still believe that Lampard can be a more-than-useful player for Chelsea. He may not be guaranteed a place in the starting XI any longer but he is a proven match-winner with years of experience having playing at the highest level. What’s more, he loves Chelsea. Players like him can be extremely useful in tight situations. Look at the type of impact Ryan Giggs has for United. He may not start every game for them, but he does a decent job whenever called upon. Lampard can be used in a similar manner. He may be aging but that doesn’t mean that he can’t perform at the highest level any longer. We have not yet seen the last of Frank Lampard.
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