In a season where Chelsea have had many of their key players affected personally and professionally, Frank Lampard has once more been a model of consistency.
Lampard a straight shooter
LONDON // In a season where Chelsea have had many of their key players affected personally and professionally, Frank Lampard has once more been a model of consistency. The off-field affairs of John Terry and Ashley Cole have blighted their contributions. Joe Cole, their fellow England international, has been a peripheral figure as he struggled to find his best form while Michael Essien has been injured for most of the campaign.
But, despite the arrival of a new manager in Carlo Ancelotti and a different style of play, Lampard has been integral to Chelsea's fortunes. An impressive tally of 21 league goals - nine in the last seven games - have been a crucial factor in why the club are just one step away from the Premier League title. Should they score five in their final game against Wigan today at Stamford Bridge, they will also achieve an amazing team century.
While Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard have been lauded for their influence and goals from central midfield at Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, their records pale in comparison with that of Lampard. For the fifth successive league season, he has topped 20. Ronnie Whelan, the former Liverpool midfielder who won six championships at Anfield, said: "It's a very impressive record and rare when a player has not even had his best season.
"I don't think Frank has played to the high standards he has set himself. "But to get 21 in the league from central midfield is an unbelievable achievement. Gerrard hasn't ever got 20 for Liverpool. "The only player I can remember getting up there with those sort of numbers was John Wark. He did it regularly for Ipswich and then when he came to us at Liverpool. It's a gift. "Over the years there are probably players who didn't always get the recognition they deserve and Frank's one of them. But I don't think he will be bothered about that.
"You don't if you are playing every week and doing your job and winning trophies." Should Lampard help Chelsea to victory today, it will secure a third Premier League title winner's medal after triumphs in 2005 and 2006 during the tenure of Jose Mourinho. With an FA Cup final to come against Portsmouth on Saturday, it could also be the most rewarding too. "I was very proud of winning the league twice, particularly the first time because of all the years Chelsea had gone without it," Lampard said on the club's website.
"It was a huge thing to be part of that group, but if we can go and win the double, it will be right up there with that because not many clubs have done it in history. "Some people have said the league has gone downhill, but I don't think it has. The league has improved because the teams in the middle of the table and down the bottom have been fighting even harder and are more organised. "It has proved more difficult for the bigger teams to win regularly week in, week out, and if we can win one more game it will be a big achievement to win it this year due to circumstances.
"You are fighting against big teams in Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and others. In the moments when we were down this season we have stayed strong." Despite his personal desire for more goals, Lampard will let Didier Drogba take any penalties awarded against Wigan. The Ivorian is level with Wayne Rooney, the Manchester United striker, on 26 with the Golden Boot for the top league scorer at stake.
For Drogba, though, and the team, the greatest reward would be the double. But as Wigan have vowed to "be brave" and attack, Ancelotti has told Chelsea to keep their concentration at the final hurdle. "Until now, we've deserved to stay at the top of the list," the Italian told reporters. "It would be a tragedy if we lost the last game after 10 months of a good, fantastic job. It would be a tragedy, a disaster."
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