x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

How to banish the blues in style

Lampard's role in Chelsea's emphatic victory over Aston Villa is the latest twist in an unpredictable season.

Chelsea's Frank Lampard has overtaken Peter Osgood in Chelsea's goalscoring stakes.
Chelsea's Frank Lampard has overtaken Peter Osgood in Chelsea's goalscoring stakes.

Unpredictability can be both a burden and a blessing. For the neutrals, it has been a distinct benefit in this year's title race. For Chelsea, it has been both. Carlo Ancelotti's side have veered from overriding favourites to candidates for third place to being very much in contention. If few envisaged some of their defeats, whether away at Wigan or at home to Manchester City, the scale of their comeback in the last week has been similarly staggering.

Scoring five goals against Portsmouth was impressive. Mustering seven against Aston Villa was outstanding. It meant, within two games, Chelsea had improved their goal difference by 11 as well as inflicting the Midlanders' heaviest defeat for 45 years. It even occurred while Didier Drogba was sat on the bench and, for all the accolades rightly directed at the Ivorian, Chelsea have struck 25 times in the six league matches he has missed.

Yet amid the mayhem, there was a reassuring predictability about one aspect of the rout: Frank Lampard scored. It is what he does best. A quartet took his tally for the campaign to 21, ensuring that, for a fifth successive year, he has reached the landmark that 20 constitutes. It would be admirable for a striker; from a midfielder it is a stunning return. In the process, Lampard also reached 151 Chelsea goals to overhaul Peter Osgood, possibly Chelsea's greatest player, and Roy Bentley, the captain of their first title-winning team. The flurry of facts is significant. It is how Lampard's importance can be measured.

It sounds like damning him with faint praise, but he is the master of efficiency. He is a player who can be judged by the numbers. Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have the flair to exhilarate; Lampard simply racks up the figures to emulate. A man who used to be derided as "Fat Frank" has gorged himself on goals. His time at Stamford Bridge has not yet spanned nine years, but only two men have struck more often for Chelsea, while only three others have appeared more.

Penalties help account for his output, but so does the single-mindedness required. He is a midfielder with the mentality of an out-and-out goalscorer. It helps explain Lampard's season, too; it feels as though he has struck the target more often than he has hit the heights. Florent Malouda, scintillating on Saturday, remains Chelsea's in-form midfielder. In terms of his overall contribution, he has had better campaigns, especially the first two after Jose Mourinho's appointment. The Portuguese's 4-3-3 formation appeared configured with Lampard in mind.

An initial deployment at the head of Carlo Ancelotti's midfield diamond, in contrast, seemed to stymie him; Lampard prefers to begin his well-timed runs from a deeper position while congestion in central areas limits his opportunities. It has helped account for some of the droughts that have punctuated his season. In between, Lampard has demonstrated the ruthlessness of the specialist scorer: two in the 5-0 win over Blackburn, another brace as Sunderland were thrashed 7-2.

It explains, too, while Lampard will not be the Footballer of the Year: Drogba and Wayne Rooney have scored more goals that are normally deemed important, against the most exacting opposition and when the game is in the balance. But should the Premier League title be decided on goal difference, they will have further reason to be grateful for his greedy streak.

Lampard's hunger for goals aside, there were several noteworthy elements to the thrashing of Villa. Leaving Martin O'Neill's side seven points behind Tottenham with a vastly inferior goal difference, it surely reduced the battle for fourth place to a three-way fight. It also extended Villa's dreadful record in March under O'Neill. That suggests the Ulsterman's aversion to squad rotation means his players tire collectively as the same stage of the season each year.

Manchester United's 4-0 win at Bolton was aided by a smooth finish from Jlloyd Samuel, which would have attracted acclaim had Wanderers' left-back not found his own net. It was the 11th own-goal to benefit United this season. Deliveries from Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia is one cause, so too the frayed nerves of defenders, but there has to be an element of fortune, too. Perhaps the finest goal of the weekend came from Stoke's Ricardo Fuller, slaloming through the West Ham defence to inflict a sixth successive defeat upon Gianfranco Zola's side. The Hammers' trip to Everton on Sunday now appears pivotal for his future. @Email:sports@thenational.ae