Lampard's value lost in transition as Chelsea alter style
There were two flashes of frustration from Frank Lampard on Monday night.
First, when he commandeered penalty-taking duties from Juan Mata and smashed home the winning goal against Manchester City and then when he admitted that he did not understand why he had been left out of Chelsea's starting line-up.
"I want to play, simple as that," Lampard said. "I'm as fit as I've ever been. I've been in a good run of form and now I've not been playing. I haven't spoken (to manager Andre Villas-Boas), so I don't know why, simple as that."
They were the words of a man who realises that, at 33, he cannot play every match but also, having been so integral to his club's success for so long, is struggling to accept that reality. Little wonder.
For a decade, Lampard has been a symbol for Chelsea: the epitome of the modern midfielder. Now he has become something else: a symbol of the need for change. Unwittingly, Lampard's declining significance represents that mood for change. In a year of transition for Chelsea, Lampard is in transition also.
He made clear after the 2-1 victory over City that he has 18 months left on his contract and, despite rumours that he might be willing to join LA Galaxy, has every intention of seeing out that contract. But, to do that to his satisfaction, he will have to change, just as other great players, such as Alessandro del Piero and Ryan Giggs, have done.
"Frank has still got a big part to play," said one Chelsea insider. "But Frank is also in transition. Everyone likes him and thinks he's an important player, but the reality is he is 33 and every player gets to a point where they cannot expect to play every game. It's how he and Chelsea manage that which will count. What role will Frank play?"
Lampard had started every major game for Chelsea since 2003 before last week's victory in the Champions League at home to Valencia. But, after being left out on Monday as well, he has now been on the bench for two big matches in a row.
"I want to play," he said. "If I didn't, there wouldn't be any point turning up, so maybe there's a bit of frustration because of that. I just want to play. I'm always at my best when I'm playing regularly. I know I've got a lot to give."
And there is the tension. The stats are good: 16 starts, eight goals and five assists so far this season, but Chelsea are changing. An evolution is turning into a revolution and the events of the last week have strengthened Villas-Boas' position.
Lampard is a strong influence on and off the pitch at a club where there are several powerful characters, including John Terry, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech.
But the dynamic is altering, as it needs to, and one of the theoretical questions asked by owner Roman Abramovich when he came to decide Carlo Ancelotti's successor in the summer was: which manager will be brave enough to drop Lampard?
Lampard was not being singled out, but it was a symbolic question. Would Guus Hiddink have left him out? The conclusion was, no. Villas-Boas was chosen, and given assurances that his is a three-year project -- the length of his contract -- to create a "new Chelsea."
That new Chelsea is about Mata, Daniel Sturridge, Oriol Romeu and Raul Meireles -- plus a playmaker that Villas-Boas hopes to sign next month.
Although it is not about freezing out Lampard, it is about recognising that his games need to be rationed because of his age and a desire to change the way the team play.
It is a difficult balance to strike. Having missed his last two penalties, Lampard took the kick against City even though he was, in effect, disobeying instructions after Villas-Boas passed the duty to Mata. When Lampard was substituted against Newcastle United, his frustration was evident, shaking his head and avoiding eye contact with the manager who is just a few months his senior.
Although Lampard grabbed the headlines against City, he was on the pitch for just 17 minutes, while the memory remains of him being dominated by Charlie Adam in Liverpool's recent Premier League win.
It is a tricky balance for the players also, as Mata highlighted. "Lampard is a legend here, a legend who keeps on providing a lot of good to the club," he said.
"He is a great presence in the dressing-room and for me he is a standard-bearer for the entire world of football. I have only known him a few months, but he is a great guy.
"He has the experience to remain calm even when he's not playing, to know that there will be times when he will play because there are so many games.
"He still has a lot to give. He will score a lot of goals and play a lot of games this season, I'm sure." (© Daily Telegraph, London)