Frank Lampard is regularly acknowledged as the beating heart of the Chelsea attack, the beater of the drum in the final third, the recognised source and soul of an incisive passing move atop the hallowed Stamford Bridge turf. He has the credentials to support the claim of being one of the world’s best – 27 goals in a season from central midfield is no easy feat. Yet the Chelsea choreographer constantly fails to make his mark on the international scene at the highest level. So, what’s wrong Frank?
The cliché is that he needs an anchor, both him and Steven Gerrard: A John Obi Mikel or a Michael Essien or even a Michael Ballack. And there is an element of truth to that – Gareth Barry’s resurgent England career is testament to it. But, there should be no surprise that the addition of a deep-lying midfielder will give the central midfielders more time and space on the ball against lower class opposition.
If minnows like Andorra and Kazakhstan push on towards Barry, it’s rather obvious that space will be created further up the pitch for Lampard to exploit. Lo and behold, Lampard claimed two assists, a goal, and a penalty in the games against the 201 and 129 ranked sides. Against more robust opposition, however, a mixture of discipline and fitness can just as easily combat the combined problem of Barry and Lampard. In the game against Algeria, the discipline of their midfielders pushed Lampard comfortably to the periphery of the game, out of his effective areas and into the wrath of the fans.
The heat maps show Lampard’s positioning during his emphatic performance against Aston Villa last season and his positioning against Algeria on Friday. It’s instantly obvious that he is playing much deeper for his country than his club and one reason for this could be the defensive discipline of the international teams they have faced. But that, of course, implies that Frank has only impressed for Chelsea when their opposition is a primarily offensive one, which simply isn’t the case.
One theory for his slightly more reserved role could be the influence of the strikers. Compare the differing roles that Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, Nicholas Anelka and Salomon Kalou have with those of Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey, Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe.
If Chelsea’s front-men, be there one, two or three, drift out to the wide areas, the opposition’s defence becomes stretched. Say, for example, Drogba drifts to the left. The wing-back is perhaps already concerned with watching Florent Malouda. This makes the opposition’s right-sided centre-back come over to close down Drogba (who, remember is supposed to be playing in the centre against that centre-back). Anelka, who is still in the centre, takes up the opposition’s left-sided centre-back, as usual, while the left back is cautious of whoever is on the right, Joe Cole or Kalou or Ballack. From this position, Chelsea have space in the middle for a midfield runner – so long as there is no cover from the opposing midfield – and Lampard often has the intelligence to lose his man to get into that space.
England, on the other hand, encourages their forwards to remain central. The set-up even implores Rooney to come deep, perhaps infringing into the area in which Lampard could be more effective. Thus, the opposition isn’t stretched and thus Lampard isn’t able to capitalise with effective forward runs.
Regrettably, this doesn’t explain everything; his lackadaisical movement and sloppy passing are all symptoms of a lack or mental concentration rather than team shape. But this brief examination could offer an insight into why exactly his form for club and country are so disparate.
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