By Ewan Roberts
Every step Frank Lampard has made towards toppling Bobby Tambling's Chelsea goal record has been greeted with praise of the player and befuddlement that the club would allow him to leave when his contract runs out at the end of the season. How could Roman Abramovich & Co. let this bastion of the club depart, especially when he still has so much to give?
On Sunday, Chelsea face a Manchester United side that know only too well the value of retaining veterans, examples, such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, of what is required in order to win silverware. The argument is that Lampard, who turns 35 in June, could fulfil that role at Stamford Bridge.
Lampard, incredibly, leads the club's scoring charts in the Premier League this season, bagging 13 goals – a figure he has only bettered twice in his career. But far from cementing his continued quality, that return belies his performances, and, rather than underscoring his importance to the team, simply reinforces the need to add more firepower up front. There is, in fact, logic to letting Lampard leave.
|ON THE DECLINE
|2009-10 v 2012-13
|THEN AND NOW
|28||Minutes per chance created||63|
The best midfields in Europe tend to have beauty/beast axes. The craft and ingenuity of Ilkay Gundogan alongside the rugged and defensive Sven Bender, the intensity and aggression of Arturo Vidal alongside the rhythmic passing of Andrea Pirlo, the tenacity, work rate and class of Javi Martinez alongside the vision, range and strength of Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Lampard offers neither control at the base of midfield, or bite and energy in the middle of the pitch. He is neither the playmaker, organising from deep, nor the ball-winner that Chelsea so clearly require.
Barcelona, of course, utilise a three-man midfield and boast the imperious Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, while Xavi performs the role in between. But Lampard and his attributes would be wasted in that "middle" role, while Chelsea simply have better players competing for the attacking places.
Lampard has averaged just 42.2 passes per match this season, only the eighth most in the Chelsea squad, and a long way behind the passing benchmarks in Europe (Xavi averages 95.7 per games, Mikel Arteta 83.8). His accuracy is a modest 82 per cent – placing him 17th amongst the Chelsea squad and 123rd in the Premier League, just 0.1% better than Stoke's Glenn Whelan.
That, it could be argued, is to be expected given Lampard's higher position, his more offensive and creative nature, his willingness to attempt riskier passes. Yet he has recorded just one league assist this season (last Sunday against Swansea), a massive drop-off compared to previous returns – between 2004 and 2010, he averaged 12 per season.
|Chelsea have won by two or more goals 12 times this season, and Lampard has scored in eight of those games. Six of his goals have come against sides in the bottom five. How much do Chelsea really need this flat-track bully?|
That is a by-product of his dwindling influence in the final third. He has just 68% pass accuracy in the final third (down 7% on last year), and has created a chance only every 63 minutes. In 2010-11 he created a chance every 39 minutes, in 2008-09 every 24 minutes. His decline is staggering.
He certainly could not bring metronomic passing to the midfield in the same way Scholes has done off the bench for Manchester United, helping to see out games with suffocating possession. The Ginger Prince managed a staggering 148 passes against Tottenham back in September, with 91% accuracy. Lampard eat your heart out.
As a ball-winner, someone to recover possession and feed the plethora of attacking options Chelsea boast, he is also ineffective. He has made just 29 tackles this season, a long way behind Chelsea's leading destroyer Ramires (104), and intercepts the ball just 0.9 times per match.
Lampard, then, offers very little that the modern midfielder should possess, and seems ill-suited to playing behind Chelsea's attacking talents. Additionally, as he ages, his mobility and athleticism can only decline. What he does bring, however, is goals – but even that is ever-so-slightly hollow.
|11/4||Frank Lampard is 11/4 with bet365 to score anytime against Manchester United
Chelsea have won by two or more clear goals on 12 occasions this season, and Lampard has scored in eight of those matches (66.6%). He has struck six times against sides in the bottom five of the league, but managed just one goal against the current top five. How much did Chelsea really need Lampard's goals in the 4-0 and 8-0 maulings of Stoke and Aston Villa respectively?
Is Lampard much more than a flat-track bully? He has suffered defeat more often than victory against the traditional “Big Four” in his career, and scored a goal only every 0.13 matches - far below his average. That is certainly not the ethos and mentality that Scholes and Giggs represent in the United camp.
If you removed Lampard's goals, Chelsea would have only accrued five fewer points this season and their position in the Premier League table would be completely unaffected. For comparison's sake, Manchester United would be 20 points worse off without Robin van Persie's goals. In fact, only the goals of Norwich and QPR topscorers Grant Holt and Loic Remy have earned fewer points for their side than Lampard.
So, Lampard's scoring feats hide his declining form and influence, and Chelsea would be wise to let him leave on a high, a Stamford Bridge legend. But if sentimentality takes the club prisoner, Lampard could prove an expensive burden.
Giggs and Scholes have not finished outside the top two in the last eight years, still contributing to United's success in their 30s. But this season will represent the second consecutive year that Chelsea, and Lampard, have finished outside the two – the first time in the Abramovich era. Having finished sixth last year, and battling just to finish in the top four this term, Lampard does not so much represent what it takes to win, but how far, and how quickly, the club, and the player himself, have fallen.
*Stats via www.whoscored.com and www.eplindex.com
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