The midfielder has been a leader, a star and arguably the best player to play for Chelsea in its history. He is the best goalscoring midfielder the premiership has ever seen and probably will see for quite some time. Now approaching the ‘grand old’ age of 34 (‘Grand Old’ in terms of football and to me personally) he has seen his playing time diminished in the recent campaign and injuries in the past year, which eluded him throughout his Chelsea career have crept in.
Lampard, much like the rest of the Chelsea team who have played at the club for a number of years, have consistently played the 4-3-3 system that Jose Mourinho introduced. Emphasis on a dynamic strong midfield being the fundamental cornerstone to success. A midfield trio in which Lampard would find himself the furthest forward of the three, whether it included Essien, Makelele, Ballack or Mikel. Yes, all three would play as box to box midfielders, but there was still a sense that Lampard was given greater attacking responsibilities than the other two who would partner him and rightly so. It was only a few games ago against Bolton, where he highlighted his attacking ability in becoming the first player to reach double figures in nine consecutive Premier League seasons. The question I pose is if under Roberto Di Matteo the team carry on playing the 4-2-3-1 system he adopted against Birmingham midweek, does Frank Lampard have a role in the starting XI?
Breaking down the formation to the two midfield areas, we have the (-2-) two holding midfielders or the ‘pivot’ role – their aim being to provide support for the defence and to pressure opposition quickly, not allowing opponents to have time on the ball. In attack they are expected to pass the ball around quickly and not let the tempo slow down, goalscoring isn’t the main expectation from the pair who play in this role. The role and characteristics suited to players like Essien, Meireles, Mikel and Romeu.
Moving on to the (-3-) three players supporting the lone striker. Two players out wide, and one central. We can almost certainly rule out Lampard playing on either flank, he struggled playing on the right or left hand side of a diamond and wouldn’t expect anything else in more of a winger or inside forward type role. That leaves the no.10 role, the role that Juan Mata was occupying against Birmingham. The same role that fans had been longing for Mata to play in. He is the most creative player at Chelsea and the man who the club are expected to build the team around.
Options? The two man pivot role is the position Lampard filled when coming on as a sub on tuesday. He played reasonably well, but he was on the pitch for less than a half and against sub standard opposition. His notable errors this season have come when he has found himself deeper in the midfield, wayward passes to the opposition have led to goals on more than one occasion. Questions will also arise on his defensive qualities, he has never been the greatest in that regard, but one cannot question his ability to cover ground in a game, he’s a tireless runner and a quality footballer. The other option is if Mata is to be sacrificed and forced to play as a left winger, I’m not a fan of this, but it would allow Lampard to play in a more natural position. The issue with this being that he is not as creative as Mata and in the past has had issues playing at the top of a diamond, which is similar to the role in this formation. Lampard tends to work better when making runs from the heart of midfield, that way he is not picked up by the opposition defence and it is left to midfielders to track his runs.
There is no doubt in my mind that Lampard is still one of the more talented players at the club, however his versatility is questionable and with players more naturally suited to the two man pivot role, his place in the starting XI shouldn’t be guaranteed. This will all be made meaningless if Chelsea revert to the tried and tested 4-3-3 in which Lampard is no doubt more comfortable in.
My injury free Starting XI, (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Luiz, Cole; Essien, Meireles; Ramires, Mata, Sturridge; Torres.