Two of the best midfield players in the world with football ability in abundance. Surely such players can play together?
Can they play together in a five-a-side team during a training session? Sure. Can they play together as a midfield pairing for the national team in a World Cup? Personally I would argue no.
In international football the balance of the side is absolutely crucial, at the highest level of the game the tactical discipline and positional awareness is vital to achieve success. Gerrard and Lampard, is a pairing which, at first glance, looks unbelievably strong. Unfortunately they are just too alike. Referring to the old football cliché, the best individuals don’t always make for the best team.
In many current teams, the midfield pairings all compliment each other well, for example, Lampard and Mikel at Chelsea, Fabregas and Song at Arsenal, Xavi and Busquets at Barcelona, and previously Xabi Alonso and Mascherano at Liverpool. The trend is to pair the playmaking, attacking player alongside the more defensive minded and disciplined individual. Much has been made of the Mascherano/Lucas partnership at Liverpool last season, two similar players, defensive minded which subsequently affect the performances of the team. Similarly, in the attacking sense, the same can be said of Gerrard and Lampard.
On the few occasions when they have been paired in central midfield the team is more vulnerable to counter attacks from the opposition as gaps open up within the team. Whilst they both have good defensive ability, their natural urge is to attack, taking up advanced positions on the field to make an impact around the opposition penalty box, something which both have become renowned for. When representing England, Gerrard and Lampard have struggled to make the adjustment of when one should attack whilst the other defends.
This is not a transition that has appeared to be a smooth one. Personal doubt can then become evident which can stifle their performances. In a World Cup when expectations are so high, supporters don’t want to see Gerrard and Lampard having to hold back. With wingers including Lennon and Wright-Phillips within the final squad, both who are lightweight and not known for their defensive capabilities, selecting Gerrard and Lampard could leave us dangerously exposed.
Fabio Capello has seemed to recognise this dilemma for the England team, evident in the importance he now places on Gareth Barry. The Manchester City man sits as the holding midfielder, primarily concerned with the defensive aspect of the game. His presence allows the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard more freedom, and whilst not excusing the pair from their defensive responsibilities, Barry’s presence and passing ability mean that the switch from defence to attack can be quicker and Gerrard and Lampard can receive the ball higher up the pitch to do what they do best.
One of reasons Gerrard enjoyed playing with Xabi Alonso at Liverpool so much was due to the Spaniard’s ability with the ball, and his quick forward thinking, that allowed him to find Gerrard in attacking positions before the opposition were able to set themselves up defensively. This helped Gerrard’s and Torres’s partnership to flourish and the goals to flow.
Within the England set-up, Gerrard should be given the same role as that which he carries out at Liverpool, playing behind the striker, in between the opposition’s defence and midfield. A midfield pairing of Lampard and Barry with Gerrard playing behind Rooney looks far more of a balanced team.
With the arrival of Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, the media have quickly linked both players with a move to the Bernabeu. It appears highly unlikely, at this stage, that both will make the move to Spain this summer. With Gerrard’s frustrations at Liverpool and Lampard’s connection with Mourinho however, such an outcome is not beyond the realms of possibility. Jose Mourinho’s pursuit of Gerrard whilst at Chelsea show he has already given thought as to how he can incorporate both players into his team. Perhaps he knows something we don’t. But then again he is ‘the Special One’ apparently. He would certainly be an interested observer if, although highly unlikely, Capello chooses to begin the World Cup with the Gerrard/Lampard midfield axis.
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