Frank Lampard’s future at Chelsea under Andre Villa Boas has been up for debate since the start of the season. As his manager puts his own personal stamp on the club and shifts the shape of the team in favour of his own footballing philosophies it looks like the England international will be surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge.
The soon to be 34-year-old midfielder has seemingly struggled in his 34-year-old manager’s 4-3-3 system this term, and if rumours are to be believed the club legend is now available for transfer.
It has been an amazing fall from grace for Lampard. Since joining the Blues from West Ham for £11 million in 2001 he has never been less than brilliant, every single season.
He had made breaking from deep an artform and his goal scoring exploits are such that he has a better strike rate than many strikers operating in the game today. Indeed, if you look at his stats you can see that he has scored 123 goals in 361 games and contributed 90 assists in the Premier League over the last ten years, a quite remarkable rate for a midfielder. Across all competitions he has scored 179 goals in 534 games with 114 assists.
While his goal scoring prowess is remarkable it is probably his physical prowess that is at the centre of all that is good about Lampard.
If you take a look at Robin van Persie’s statistics, you see that the Arsenal striker has only averaged around 24 games a season for Arsenal, up until this last year, since 2004. Whereas a quick glance at Lampard reveals that the player has only twice played less than 35 games in a Premier League season of 38 and even then he managed to play 24 games, equal to the Arsenal striker.
However, Lampard’s statistics become all the more amazing when you add in cup and Champions League matches. Here the player averages 51 games a season, this includes an amazing 63 game haul in the 2006/07 season when Chelsea finished 2nd to Manchester United in the Premier League and won both the League and FA Cups. Add in nine internationals for England and you have the player playing a phenomenal 72 games in one season.
Having established that Lampard is a player with a goal scoring knack that few other midfielders or strikers can compare with and that he is a physical freak regarding injury and fitness we can now look at him as a player.
He boasts a very good first touch, has a great engine, and reads the game remarkably well – especially going forward. Each and every Chelsea manager since 2001 has built his team around the strengths of his key midfielder be they Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Luis Felipe Scolari or Carlo Ancelotti.
Each manager has used similar systems and shape to get the very best out of the now 33-year-old where the pro’s of his game have been taken advantage of to a huge degree while the cons of his game have been covered by other players.
The best examples of this are Jose Mourinho’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation or Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-4-2-Diamond formation where Lampard was utilised just behind the main strikers in a role where he could break into the box with aplomb. These formations allowed Lampard the ability to merge with the attack while the team were going forward and also afforded the team the full knowledge that the England international would drop deep to help his team out when they needed it most.
It is a highly disciplined role which requires huge tactical knowledge and awareness of the shape of his team mates at all times because a wrong run forwards or backwards could end up with either section of the team becoming outnumbered quite easily. When you look at how many times this has happened to the Blues since 2001 and how much success they have enjoyed you realise that Lampard is far more than just a goal scorer.
As a central midfielder Lampard does not fit the bill of an old-fashioned player in that particular position. He cannot dictate the ebb and flow of a game at the highest level through passing and positioning. It must also be said though that in Lampard’s ten years at Chelsea, the Blues have never had a player of that type at the club and they have built a system that has surrounded the strengths of all of their players.
Andre Villa Boas, upon joining the club in June for a world record fee of £15 million for a manager, quickly established that he wanted to change the shape and system at the club by moving for Tottenham Hotspur’s Luka Modric.
Modric is exactly the kind of player to dictate games. The main problem here is that it now seems that Andre Villa Boas has decided that Frank Lampard cannot play beside such a player and that he is now being pigeon holed as “just” a goal scoring midfielder. There is so much more to Lampard as a player than just goals and he is one of the most disciplined midfielders playing in the EPL today in terms of positioning, work rate and following orders.
Earlier this season Villa Boas experimented with Lampard at the base of his preferred 4-3-3, he then moved the player further forward and replaced him with Meireles at the base. In each position the player put in excellent performances.
The major turning point in the Lampard’s relationship with Villa Boas seems to have happened in the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United in September where the player was unceremoniously substituted at half time with his team trailing 3-1. Chelsea using Villa Boas’ 4-3-3 formation were out run through midfield and bypassed on the wings as United exposed their defensive frailties. Lampard paid the price for his manager setting the team up wrong and in the second half Villa Boas utilised a 4-2-3-1 formation with Nicolas Anelka replacing the England midfielder.
It was a huge statement of intent by the new Chelsea boss as not only did he take off his talismanic midfielder, after getting his tactics wrong, he then used the formation that perhaps utilises his midfielders strengths to their best, with him off the pitch.
Lampard was then dropped the following week against Swansea before returning with a hat trick against Bolton in a 5-1 win in October. From there the relationship seems to have soured somewhat as the before ever present Lampard has now only played the full 90 minutes twice in Chelsea’s last eight games and those were against relegation candidates Wolves and Wigan.
While you can read a number of things from Lampard being dropped from the first XI over the last eight games, only one thing can be taken from Andre Villa Boas’ comments after Lampard’s late winner against Wolves on January 2. When asked by Match of the Day what he thought of Lampard’s winning contribution the manager tellingly avoided naming Lampard in person and referred to the strength of mind of the squad instead.
MOTD: “Frank Lampard did what Frank Lampard has been doing for the last decade and popped up with a valuable goal. [Is he] still a valuable member of your squad?
AVB: “Yeah, well it’s always been like that.
“I always keep saying the team unity and team spirit is fantastic and it is much more important than individual spirit and I think it’s important for the team to continue to produce for each other no matter who scores.”
This short exchange of less than 80 words speaks volumes of where Villa Boas sees Lampard both as a player and more importantly as a person. His frank refusal, no pun intended, to acknowledge the midfielders contribution shows that their has been a breakdown in communication and that Andre Villa Boas would probably be happier with Lampard out of Stamford Bridge than within it.
As it stands, Lampard has 18-months left on his contract of around £150,000 per week.
From the outside it seems that Andre Villa Boas is blaming the veteran players at the club for Chelsea’s poor form this season. Nicolas Anelka was unceremoniously dumped out to pasture in China with Shanghai Shenhua which came as a major surprise as the player was arguably one of the Blues better performers under Carlo Ancelotti last season.
As Andre Villa Boas imposes his preferred 4-3-3 system upon a squad that do not seem capable of playing it at the highest level it appears that the player are taking the blame for its failure rather than a manager who is using square pegs in round holes.
Two of the main reasons Chelsea have been potent in attack this season have been Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata. Both have been excellent going forward and have really given the team a wide outlet on either flank.
However, their lack of defensive work has seen both full backs exposed badly which in turn has seen the centre halves exposed though long balls into the space created by moving the full backs out of position.
This has also had the domino effect of neutralising the midfield trio, whoever they may be, as they are locked in a central position and are quite easily bypassed out wide.
This allowance to let both Mata and Sturridge shirk their duties looks like it has caused a split as Villa Boas has dropped other players to shore up the holes left by this duo.
If you can think back to the early days of Jose Mourinho where he employed two out and out wingers in Arjen Robben and Damien Duff and the defensive workload he insisted upon you can see why some Chelsea players might possibly be angry. Especially if they perceive that the manager is blaming them for poor results and letting others get away with it.
This allowance and constant use of a system that does not suit this current Chelsea squad shows that Andre Villa Boas is a manager who does not recognise his own mistakes and that given that the Blues have played some 30 games this season it looks like the manager is incapable of realising he has made more than one mistake in his selections.
There is no arguing that Frank Lampard at 33, John Terry at 31, Nicolas Anelka at 32 and Didier Drogba at 33 all need replacing soon. However, it is also quite obvious that each and every player is capable of playing at the highest level for another couple of years at least and that the early signings made by Villa Boas of Raul Meireles, Romelu Lukaku, Oriel Romeau and Ulises Davila have all flattered to deceive thus far.
Even at 33, Lampard would be a remarkable signing for virtually every single team in the Premier League. His track record, professionalism and injury record guarantee interest from all of the top managers so it will be very interesting to see what happens next regarding this situation.
Manchester United could use a player of his calibre but the recent return from retirement of Paul Scholes would seem to have poured cold water on that particular move.
He would not fit in at Liverpool where Steven Gerrard has just returned from a long term injury and with Luis Suarez in the mix Kenny Dalglish is unlikely to want another player running into the same channels as his two best players.
That leaves Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. City are unlikely to be interested in such a player although their is no doubting that the Citizens could do with a few more goals from midfield if they are to push on towards the next level and at 33 Lampard is just too old to interest Roberto Mancini for this role.
Leaving Spurs and Arsenal as the favourites to capture his signature.
Again his age may become a factor, especially where Arsene Wenger is concerned. However, Lampard is nothing if not a leader and one thing the Gunners do not have too many of is leaders. He may interest Wenger with the fact that he would bring a superb professional attitude with him on top of the fact that he could streamline quite easily with Alex Song, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshire and Aaron Ramsey. Add in the fact that the player may be interested in helping the next generation develop and his signing for Wenger could become a very real possibility.
When all is said and done though, Spurs remain the most realistic option for Lampard if he is to stay in the Premier League.
His uncle, Harry Redknapp, knows all about the player and what a fantastic attitude he has and would surely love to bring the player to White Hart Lane. However, Lampard joining Spurs may come at a price as Luka Modric would almost be sure to go in the opposite direction.
Given Spurs’ position in the table it would be more than reasonable of the White Hart Lane outfit to demand players like Lampard, the misfiring Fernando Torres, Josh McEacheran or Oriel Romeau in return for the Croatian’s signature.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear; Frank Lampard’s days at Chelsea seem to be coming to an end.