Chelsea FC: Why Frank Lampard Is a Hopeless Defensive Midfielder
The reason why Lampard hasn’t been made a scapegoat like his partner John Obi Mikel is because the Englishman is a living Blues’ legend.
We’re talking about Chelsea’s three-time Player of the Year, who was one of José Mourinho’s untouchables, and who needs 15 more goals to overtake the great Bobby Tambling as the Blue’s most prolific scorer ever.
Just like Liverpool supporters finally accepting Kenny Dalglish’s managerial inadequacies, Chelsea fans need to see the light—when paired with Mikel, Lampard is a hopeless defensive midfielder.
Frank Lampard's Positioning Problems This Season
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Frank Lampard hasn’t marked Danny Guthrie tightly, which is odd because the 25-year-old is Reading’s midfield orchestrator. Garath McCleary is in possession, Guthrie presents himself, both exchange a 1-2, which culminates in McCleary providing a pin-point cross for Pavel Pogrebnyak’s headed goal.
Lampard is in awe of Arda Turan, which allows Falcao, who has scored 36, 37 and 34 goals in his last three seasons, respecitvely, to run into Chelsea’s box unmarked, blindside Ramires and score another goal.
Lampard not tracking Falcao is an obvious error but look at David Luiz, who’s caught in no-man’s land.
You can’t help but notice the irony.
In a bid to prevent Luiz being caught out, Lampard instructs the Brazilian to mark Mirko Vučinić, yet Chelsea’s No. 8 hasn’t given himself time to survey who he needs to mark—he’s blissfully unaware of Arturo Vidal.
By the time Claudio Marchisio releases the pass, Vidal turns Lampard with ease and dispatches a shot past Petr Čech.
These are three blatant miscalculations by Lampard, which played a part in the Blues conceding on each occasion.
There are a plethora of examples where the Blues are fortunate not to concede more goals whilst he is either caught up the field, ball-watching or just standing around doing nothing (i.e. against Atlético Madrid).
Lampard's predicament reinforces the notion that when Roberto Di Matteo doesn't park the bus, there is no organization in defence or in midfield. It's easy for Lampard to rack up tackles and interceptions when he has a horde of teammates behind him, though.
He's having a hard time adjusting to life as a holding midfielder in a conventional defence.
Will he ever develop into an elite defensive midfielder?
Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel: Toothless Midfield Partnership
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In the Premier League, Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel combine to average three tackles and three interceptions per game.
Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin averages 4.6 tackles and 4.4 interceptions by himself.
Both Lampard and Mikel rely more on positioning than tackling, and neither are natural defensive midfielders.
People often forget that Mikel's playmaking displays enabled him to receive the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship Silver Ball—only a pint-sized Lionel Messi could say he was a better player than the Nigerian.
Toothless is the perfect word to describe Roberto Di Matteo's double pivot of Lampard and Mikel.
One of Europe's in-form holding midfield partnership is Benoît Cheyrou and Charles Kaboré at Marseille.
Both are strong tacklers, comfortable in possession and keep their defensive shape—Lampard and Mikel are not even on the level of L'OM's midfield pair, let alone Bayern Munich's combination of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luiz Gustavo.
Schweinsteiger's positional awareness from a defensive and offensive viewpoint is impeccable. Gustavo is playing for his starting position because as soon as his tackles per game drops, he'll be replaced by €40 million man Javi Martínez.
Gustavo and Martínez compliment Schweinsteiger because the aforementioned two players are excellent ball-winners, whereas Schweinsteiger screens the back four.
You look at Arsenal's Invincibles with Patrick Vieira enforcing in midfield, whilst Gilberto Silva was the invisible wall.
Roberto Di Matteo has two non-ball winning midfielders as the two pivots—not a good idea.
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Quit Blaming John Obi Mikel
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Readers who are familiar with my articles will know that I'm not a fan of John Obi Mikel. But, if you're a fair-minded person, you cannot deny that Mikel has been in career-best form for the past six months.
For parts of last season Mikel looked like Gilberto Silva, because his positioning was near-perfect.
Yes, he made a mistake which cost Chelsea two UEFA Champions League points at home against Juventus.
Yet, Frank Lampard, John Terry and David Luiz, who have made more mistakes in recent memory, didn't receive the same harsh and disgraceful treatment that Mikel was forced to endure.
He cannot co-exist with Lampard, because the Englishman's positional indiscipline leaves Mikel and the back four exposed.
Other Defensive Midfield Alternatives to Frank Lampard
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Ramires, Centre Midfielder, Age: 25, Brazilian
Asking Ramires to screen the back four is like telling Cristiano Ronaldo to stay on the left. The Brazilian was solid against Stoke City but will be exposed against better opposition. This is assuming, however, he decides to go on one of his trademark bombarding runs.
David Luiz, Centre-Back, Age: 25, Brazilian
Worth a shot in midfield if his displays at centre-back continue to decline (which they will).
One of my favourite footballing quotes is when Francisco Filho told a then-16-year-old kid named William Gallas: "William, as an attacker, you don't score goals. In midfield, you don't make any, so we are going to try you in defence."
David, you go walk about in defence, you sometimes think you're a centre forward and your tackling is hit-and-miss.
Here's an interesting excerpt from one of Tim Vickery's columns in 2007: "Arturo Vidal—powerful utility man who says he'll be the world's best centre-back in a few years."
In the span of five years, Vidal went from a centre-back to a world-class box-to-box midfielder. One can surmise his tendency to maraud forward, and his hyperactivity prompted his switch to a full-time midfielder.
Oriol Romeu, Centre Midfielder, Age: 21, Spanish
Will be an elite midfielder with or without Chelsea.
Sell him. The Blues aren't a feeder club.
Once he develops and becomes a starter, he'll want to go back home. He isn't even a regular and he's already contemplating about returning to Barça:
I've always felt like a big Barcelona supporter, I am very grateful to FC Barcelona and it's thanks to them that I am where I am. I wanted to play more and Chelsea showed confidence in me, but if FC Barcelona want you to play, well...
Defensive Midfield Transfer Targets
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Étienne Capoue, Toulouse, Age: 24, French
He has to be Chelsea's No. 1 transfer target.
His physical attributes are off the charts and he's one of the best defensive midfield prospects in the world.
Yann M'Vila, Rennes, Age: 22, French
Positive Spin: Rennes have struggled without M'Vila playing at his best.
Negative Spin: M'Vila has given up on Rennes, which is evident by his abnormally low 1.7 tackles and interceptions per game.
He wasn't granted a summer transfer away from the club and, consequently, he is refusing to go that extra mile for Rennes.
Big red flag but worth a punt especially from a club that spent £18 million on Yuri Zhirkov to warm the benches.
Ignacio Camacho, Málaga, Age: 22, Spanish
All-action midfielder, who'll fit right in with Chelsea's Español clique.