Lampard's renaissance at Manchester City a lesson for clubs
When Frank Lampard played out one of the most uninspiring England matches of the millennium to end the 2014 World Cup bottom of their group, most onlookers presumed it would be the final time we would see him playing at anything resembling the top of the game. A deal was soon thereafter announced that the Chelsea legend would be moving to MLS new boys New York City FC in time for the 2015 season, and after a year well below his usual high standards, few would have expected him to be involved come the start of the next Premier League campaign.
Manchester City (given their connections with NYCFC) signed Lampard on loan, initially just for the start of the season, but after the impact he has made in the opening 14 games, there is a growing level of talk about his deal being extended to season's end.
He had been used primarily as a holding midfielder under José Mourinho last season at Chelsea and was deemed surplus to requirements with the impending arrival of Cesc Fàbregas from Barcelona. The Portuguese missed a trick, though, and Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has highlighted that fact by handing Lampard a more free-roaming, bit-part role for the reigning champions.
While Steven Gerrard struggled to cope with the demands that Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was putting on him to play every minute and retain an integral role at Liverpool, Lampard has thrived appearing from the bench, for the most part, for City.
Gerrard has been charged with protecting a shaky back four for Liverpool, but is largely failing in that regard, making just 1.9 tackles and 0.6 interceptions per game, too immobile to adequately perform the role of a defensive midfielder. Lampard, meanwhile, relinquished of those duties, has been in inspired form going forward. With three goals, including one against Chelsea, he is the top-scoring substitute in the Premier League this season. Averaging a goal every 73.3 minutes of action, he is the most prolific goal scorer in the whole top flight.
It is arguably a testament to Pellegrini's work that he has helped Lampard rediscover the kind of play that we had become so used to seeing from the former England midfielder. It is also no coincidence that Rodgers last weekend saw fit to rest Gerrard, before releasing his fresh captain in a more advanced role at Leicester on Tuesday night, a game in which he was named man of the match. There is every chance that Rodgers was inspired by the player who has spent his whole career being compared to Gerrard.
At 36 years of age, it makes sense for Pellegrini to utilise Lampard so sparingly, but it was impressive how convincingly he held his own for a full 90 minutes against European heavyweights and pass-masters Bayern Munich only last week. Granted, the German side had been reduced to 10 men after only 20 minutes, but they still dominated the ball (52.7 percent) in what was, in parts, one of the most remarkable displays of possession football we have seen in recent years. Lampard has had his game time managed in his older years, and he has learned how to manage his box-to-box game, too.
The ruthlessness with which he clinically dispatched a shot from the edge of the area to double City's lead at Southampton on Sunday was Lampard at his very best and will have given Chelsea fans a harsh reminder of what they let go and what they could still have. Top of the league and six points clear of City, they won't be too worried about having let Lampard go, but he is giving City's squad added depth and providing Pellegrini with the perfect player to change a game from the bench.
Lampard's three goals from the bench is as many as Chelsea's subs have in total this season; and wouldn't they have loved to have him to come off the bench at, say, Sunderland last weekend, or away to Maribor in the Champions League, when an all-important goal otherwise evaded them?
The Blues' lead at the top of the table means they are unlikely to be made to regret letting Lampard go too much, but he is certainly showing that clubs should think twice before letting players go in the twilight of their careers. Reinvented as a super-sub in his 37th year, Frank Lampard might end up nudging the title away from the club at which he is loved.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.