Chelsea fans remain in the dark about the future of club legend and talisman of the past 10 years, Frank Lampard.
Early on, reports surfaced claiming Lampard was leaving, with the Los Angeles Galaxy pointed to as a probable destination. He was told, allegedly, that he wouldn't be offered a new contract, and he was free to seek work elsewhere. Evidently, that's changed.
According to the Daily Mail, Chelsea management had a change of heart, and re-opened negotiation with the 34-year-old midfielder. His agent promptly responded by saying Chelsea haven't offered to extend his contract, and that's where the issue stands now.
So what is there to make of the situation? Conflicting reports abound about what's actually going on, so instead let us focus on whether or not Chelsea should retain him, rather than if they will, with specific emphasis on his tactical impact.
Lampard is almost always deployed now as one of two holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation, charged with breaking up the opposition's passing and contributing to Chelsea's build-up by linking the attackers and defenders.
Generally, these players read the game better than nearly anyone else, efficiently winning the ball and re-distributing the ball where it is needed. Lampard has been a work in progress in this regard, since he doesn't run particularly well - he's 34, and his game has never contained serious pace.
As a result, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo usually preferred to pair John Obi Mikel and Ramires as the pivots. Mikel brings a defensive mind-set - his positioning is sound and he breaks up play well. Ramires sprints over every inch of the pitch chasing down players and carrying the ball forward. All in all, they worked fairly well together.
The problem was, the Mikel-Ramires partnership caused problems offensively. Mikel's ball control isn't great, and he lacks any speed whatsoever. Ramires has better ball control and great speed, but his passing range is sorely limited. Mikel's passing range isn't anything spectacular, either.
A simple look at the draw away against Queens Park Rangers illustrates the consequences of this pairing. QPR came out in a 4-4-2, and their four midfielders were instructed to focus pressure on Mikel and Ramires. Usually, Ramires is an asset up against pressure, since he has enough control to break through with his pace and distribute to the attacking midfielders, but QPR specifically took away short passing options. That way, the only option was to shuffle the ball back and forth until something opened up, or play something long.
Neither Mikel, nor Ramires, play the long game well. They either lost the ball, or simply played it back to our defenders, hampering build-up dramatically. Frank Lampard offers a solution to some of those problems.
Lampard offers better passing range and ball control, plus the added bonus of clinical finishing. That clinical finishing played a huge part in some recent games, like Chelsea's win over Everton.
He plays long passes effectively, creating width and space for Juan Mata and Eden Hazard to work in. So, if his offensive benefits are so clear, why wasn't he getting a run in the team earlier?
That question has a couple answers. Roberto Di Matteo favoured a defensive approach, AVB tried to faze him out in favour of younger players, but more than anything else, he didn't work particularly well with Ramires or Mikel.
Lampard works better with Ramires than with Mikel, but both carry an attacking mind-set, so the attacking third gets clogged and defensive positioning takes a hit. They're also more susceptible on the counter. One thing that's helped Lampard, however, is the emergence of David Luiz as a holding midfielder.
Luiz's primary position is that of a ball-playing centre back. He helps build-up from the back of the defence, but maintains little offensive responsibility.
He loves to break forward, though, creating some chances but leaving the back line exposed. Recently, Rafa Benitez gave him a run in the team as a defensive midfielder, and he showed promise.
Luiz has actually been much better than Mikel or Ramires, by bringing a defensive mind-set, great passing range, good ball control, and an ability to burst forward with pace.
He fouls incessantly, as does Ramires, but breaks up play effectively and physically controls the midfield, allowing Lampard to get forward when he wants to. This Luiz-Lampard partnership forces defenders to account for more offensive threats whilst creating width with a good passing range.
While the tactical element is absolutely important, it's probably not the biggest reason Chelsea should keep Lampard. He's been with the club the majority of his playing career and overseen their most successful period in history.
He represents himself and the club with consummate professionalism and consistency, and continues to work hard every day. He's a club legend, arguably the best Chelsea player of all time, and still contributes however he can. Chelsea are now rebuilding with a new generation of attacking midfielders, none of which are over 25-years-old. Could there be a better teacher than Super Frank Lampard?
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