If we know anything about Andre Villas-Boas, it’s this: He wants Chelsea to play at a quick pace. It’s the reason he was tabbed by Roman Abramovich to lead Chelsea’s transformation away from the pragmatism of Jose Mourinho, whose impact is still felt around Stamford Bridge.
If we know anything about Frank Lampard it’s this: He doesn’t play at a quick pace. He likes to spend time on the ball and pick out the right pass—usually to the center of the pitch—before bombing into the box. Is there anything wrong with Lampard’s style of play? Of course not, but in an AVB side, that style of play just doesn’t fit.
Take Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Wigan for instance. Some might say that the flat, impotent performance by Chelsea was due to the inevitable let-down after the win against City, but there was more to it than that.
Oriol Romeu played his worst game, by far, and was pulled after halftime. Juan Mata was ineffective and had little impact on the game. So what changed from Chelsea’s run of wins? Lampard got the start over Ramires, moving Raul Meireles over to the right. Chelsea clearly missed Ramires’ energy in the middle, as did Romeu, and Lampard’s introduction completely changed the dynamic of the team.
Take a look at Lampard’s chalkboard (via the Guardian) in the Wigan draw compared to Meireles’ against Wolves.
The two thing things that jump out are the number of pass Lampard plays and the direction of those passes. As you can see Lampard spends a lot of time on the ball, meaning Juan Mata is spending less time on the ball and less time creating, something Lampard, for all his virtues, does not do much of. Meanwhile, Meireles spends little time on the ball, attempting only 34 passes, a majority of which were direct, lateral passes to Mata on the left.
There was a time when Lampard was the epicenter of the Chelsea team, but that time has passed. When Chelsea play through Mata, they are simply a better side. Unfortunately, when Lampard is in the side, it’s hard for Chelsea to do that—the left side of the pitch just isn’t big enough for the both of them. Simply put: Mata’s best games—and not coincidently, Chelsea’s best results—have come with Lampard on the bench.
If AVB is going to implement his system, the system Abramovich wants to see, he needs to get rid of the “slow”—not in terms of running speed, rather ball-circulating speed—players that Torres complained about in the infamous interview with El Pais. Along with Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda, Lampard certainly falls under that category.