Should Chelsea regret letting Frank Lampard go?
For all that Jose Mourinho has tried to quell any controversy in the media this campaign, and all the usual “issues” he’s so far managed to generally evade, there’s been one question that’s guaranteed to get a reaction. It will at the least make his facial expression change, even if the Chelsea manager still tries to dodge the question.
Unfortunately for Mourinho, there’s no dodging the story. It’s been one of the distinctive strands of the season so far and could yet be a decisive factor in where the title goes: the form of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard… for Manchester City.
For Mourinho, it is not just that a player he let go – to, so he thought, New York City FC – is playing so well for one of the Portuguese’s rivals. It is that the unexpected move is also having such a distinctive effect on Chelsea’s own season. It began, appropriately enough, with Lampard’s first goal for City – the crucial equaliser against Mourinho’s team back on 20 September.
Since then, he has scored another four goals in the league, and another two of them have been vital match-winers. That makes Lampard directly responsible for five of City’s points – one against Chelsea, two against Leicester City, two against Sunderland. That’s not bad, especially given his limited football this season.
Instead, Lampard has limited Chelsea’s title charge. Were it not for their former midfielder, Mourinho’s side would be seven clear of City (as Chelsea themselves would have two more). It’s not just that impact. It’s the impressive rate.
Lampard is currently on the best minutes-between-goals ratio of his career, at one every 72 minutes and 48 seconds. It is also twice as good as that from what is generally considered his peak campaign, the free-scoring of 2009/10.
The wonder, of course, is whether Lampard could still have performed a similar job for Chelsea; whether it is possible Mourinho didn’t feel the midfielder could still have the same effect. Did the Portuguese effectively write Lampard off?
Mourinho himself has claimed the decision to let the midfielder go was down to deeper issues, not least his influence on the rest of the squad.
“My view is that when you want to look forward, look for the future and have people like Fàbregas and Matic and Oscar, which are the next 10 years of the club and the project is prepare for the next 10 years not for the next year we made the right decision.
You can argue ‘you have John Terry and Didier Drogba’. Different. DD is a striker that is coming to help and support. JT is the best central defender in English football and it doesn’t matter how old he is and the nucleus of the team that has to be developed.
You have a big player like Frank we would stop the development of the other guys.”
This was the thing with Lampard at Chelsea. He was such a club legend, and so used to a certain influence, that he basically had more power. He would have not unreasonably expected to start in his preferred central position for a certain number of games. Mourinho could not guarantee that, so had to guarantee there were no problems. He moved Lampard on.
To a degree, all of this is understandable, not least because of the fact Lampard probably can’t anymore play the type of progressive central midfield role that Fàbregas exemplifies.
You can see the drop-off in elements of his game from recent seasons. Even allowing for the fewer minutes from sub appearances, there has been a significant drop-off in his number of key passes, long balls and through balls. There’s been a gradual decline in each of these areas and, with Lampard in the team, Chelsea would have had more functionality and fluency.
The real crux of this, though, is that circumstances have meant Lampard performing a role at City that he may not have been so ready to accept at Chelsea. At one, he was the leader. At City, thanks to the unexpected new opportunity they’ve given him, he’s had to take the manager’s lead.
The key is that it’s often meant City leading. Lampard is excelling in his short bursts of play at the front of midfield. As well as the rate of his scoring, he is shooting more frequently and - as seen with the winner against Sunderland in the 3-2 on New Years Day - is winning headers more frequently.
Lampard is having a real effect, so it’s little wonder Mourinho isn’t effusive when asked about it.
Do you think Chelsea made a mistake letting Lampard go, or did Mourinho make the right decision?