Evergreen Lampard's future still far from certain
Published 11/02/2013 | 04:00
EVEN the good days illuminate the dysfunction at the heart of Chelsea. This should have been an afternoon of relief for Rafael Benitez, an ultimately comfortable win relieving pressure over his position.
But when the goal that settles matters comes from Frank Lampard, a club legend within touching distance of an all-time goalscoring record and left hanging over a new contract, the questions do not get any easier.
Asked if Lampard could continue playing until the World Cup and beyond, Benitez sniffed a bear-trap.
"I think he can do a job on Thursday (against Sparta Prague) and I will be very pleased with that," he replied, mindful that a ringing endorsement might be seen by the club hierarchy as questioning a decision beyond his pay-grade.
Eventually, the interim manager conceded the obvious, that Lampard, a man of dedication and discipline, can continue at the highest level to the summer of 2014 and perhaps beyond. He just would not say where.
"Yes (he can play until the World Cup). He is a good pro. In training he works very hard like the rest of the team so he is fine. It is difficult to say (how much longer he can play). But if he has no injuries, he can still play at a good level," Benitez said.
Lampard scored Chelsea's third to end Wigan's resistance. It was his 198th Chelsea goal – four short of Bobby Tambling's record, and his 10th in 16 games, including Wednesday's winner for England.
It may not be enough to earn him a new contract, though credible reports last week suggest the club is reconsidering. These remain unconfirmed by Chelsea and the suggestion Abramovich's position is softening does no harm in the eyes of disgruntled fans.
Perhaps Chelsea's long-term thinking was again revealed when the agent of highly-rated Chilean midfielder Cristian Cuevas disclosed that the 17-year-old is close to agreeing a move to west London from his club, O'Higgins.
Against Wigan, Benitez had much to be pleased with. David Luiz was outstanding in midfield, Ramires was an energetic stand-in for the rested Juan Mata, and Fernando Torres showed the benefits of a week off.
All three combined for Ramires' well-taken opener and, when Eden Hazard added the second, a routine win seemed likely.
Shaun Maloney revived memories of recent Chelsea leads blown but Lampard and Marko Marin, scoring with his first touch, put a gloss on a good afternoon for the home side. (© Daily Telegraph, London)