WASHINGTON – Frank Lampard wasn't even supposed to be here this season.
As the 2012-13 campaign started, news broke that Chelsea was prepared to let the legendary midfielder leave at the end of the season when his contract expired. Lampard's agent confirmed the news in January, saying it would be the England international's final season at Stamford Bridge.
But then a funny thing happened. Lampard, as he'd done his entire Chelsea career, started scoring goals. As Lampard found the back of the net again and again, the cries from Chelsea fans to re-sign him grew stronger and stronger.
In May, Lampard scored his 202nd and 203rd goals for Chelsea in the same game, equaling and then breaking Bobby Tambling's all-time club record. Just days later, Lampard agreed to a one-year contract extension.
Now 35, Lampard faces intense competition for playing time, as Chelsea has added Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel to an already-crowded midfield, in addition to bringing Michael Essien and Kevin De Bruyne back from loan spells.
Once again, many will speculate the end of Lampard's Chelsea career is near. Counting him out, though, might be unwise.
“I feel good, I had a good strong preseason, lots of games, lots of training,” Lampard told reporters after he scored in Chelsea's 2-1 preseason win over Roma. “I feel ready.”
Lampard has struggled through an Achilles injury during Chelsea's preseason, but a strong 45 minutes against Roma and an England call-up for the team's friendly against Scotland next week should allay fears he'll miss the beginning of the Premier League season.
“I'm a pretty fit bloke and I trained the first week of preseason and last week now and I've trained hard and in between I was looking after myself,” Lampard said, before alluding to Chelsea's Premier League opener against Hull City on Aug. 17: “If the manager wants me, then I'll be there and ready.”
Despite the competition for places and his recent lack of fitness, Lampard's trademark finish against Roma proved once again that he'll have a part to play for the Blues this season.
As he received the ball 40 yards out, Lampard drove forward, saw the Roma defense back off, and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the near corner to tie the match.
“I was trying to wait to slip someone in, but they kept backing off,” Lampard said. “I was pleased with it, because sometimes in preseason your shooting can be a bit off, your timing and that, but I've worked a little bit in the last week. I've been out at training more and it's nice to catch hold of one.”
The Chelsea legend appears set to play another big role in his team's season, but when asked if he could hit the 20-goal mark again, Lampard said he was shooting for a more modest goal.
"I never commit to that (20 goals) even when I was about 25,” he said with a laugh. “I love to contribute. I think things have changed a little bit in the last couple years, and I still manage to chip in my fair share. If I can do that again and be part of a successful team, I'll be more than happy.”