As Frank Lampard goes, Chelsea goes; an adage that has served the west Londoners well over the past decade, as Lampard’s form rarely takes prolonged dips. But for the month of February and first half of March, the engine that has driven Chelsea to such great successes was showing a few leaks.
Season after season, the Chelsea attack has gone through their number 8. For all his lack of pizazz or flash, Frank Lampard has been Chelsea’s (and arguably the Premier League’s) most consistent player for the past seven years. Pundits and fans alike were looking for answers as to why Chelsea had lost their edge in recent weeks. Certainly there are a multitude of reasons one could find: John Terry’s errant performances in the wake of the Wayne Bridge scandal, the plethora of defensive injuries hurting the side, or Carlo Ancelotti simply being outcoached. While these developments have definitely affected the team greatly, it is the fact that Lampard looked bizarrely lost in games that sent Chelsea into a skid.
As the attack centered more on Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba, Lampard seemed unable to make an impact on games, or even find what space to occupy as attacks developed. It seemed as if games would drift by without a mention of his name. He was not finding that five yards of space between the opponents’ midfield and defense where he could launch his deadly long shots, from which he has scored so many goals over the years. Perhaps the timing was off with his teammates, but it seemed his late runs into the box were never found, nor was he able to set himself up in midfield, survey the field and pick out a rushing fullback down the flank or a diagonal run from a forward he could send through. These are the cornerstones of Lampard’s game, and for about a six-week spell his form perilously fell from grace. And not coincidentally, so did Chelsea’s.
Despite Drogba and Malouda playing lights out, something was missing from the Chelsea attack, making them much too reliant on Drogba’s strength and Malouda’s flare. Indeed, the spaces that Lampard should have been occupying were being taken over by Malouda, and as fast as the Frenchman’s star was rising, Lampard’s was falling. Aside from his brace in the humbling 4-2 defeat versus Manchester City, the Chelsea legend went 10 games in February and early March without scoring and getting only one assist, which are telling statistics. Why? Over that span Chelsea dropped 10 EPL points over eight matches and got knocked out of the Champions League. Indeed, in his outings against Internazionale and his former mentor Jose Mourinho, Lampard never even showed up and had zero impact over the two matches.
This stretch was enough to make a soccer fan think. It seemed too long a blip to be just temporary. Is he just not fitting in Ancelotti’s system? Are his best days behind him and has Ancelotti given the reins of attack over to Malouda and Drogba? Then again, it is Frank Lampard we are talking about. Surely he will bounce back. Right?
‘Bounce back’ would be an injustice to describe Lampard’s last two matches. Whatever happened between his tepid performance against Blackburn (which saw Manchester United go top of the table) and his dominant showing three days later against lowly Pompey only Frank knows. Against Portsmouth, he was back to his old self: pinpoint longballs, shooting on sight and always testing the keeper, finding Drogba over the top or on the ground, and making timely runs which were now being rewarded. For 90 minutes he was the man of the match despite not scoring, and to see him so frustrated at not getting a goal showed he knew his game was back. Rather than look lost, he looked hungry. And he got his just rewards with a 90th minute goal.
Then, we all saw the destruction against a good Aston Villa side. Plundering home four goals still didn’t speak to the impact he had on the match. Lampard was simply everywhere, and could have had five were it not for his selfless lay-off to Malouda for Chelsea’s fifth in the 7-1 demolition.
Five goals for Lampard and twelve for Chelsea in the last two matches will surely intimidate the unflappable Alex Ferguson. It seems that as Frank Lampard has hit his stride so has Chelsea, setting up the English game of the year this Saturday: Manchester United v Chelsea at Old Trafford to quite possibly decide the title. Enough to give any soccer fan goosebumps.
Keep an eye out for my soccer blog Pitchmen (and excuse the lack of recent updates as it is currently being developed). Thanks!