Monday, May 3, 2010
Drogba, Lampard follow the script
It was exactly as the scriptwriters would have written it: goals from Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard sent Chelsea to the brink of winning the English Premier League.
After their 2-0 victory over a despondent Liverpool side at Anfield yesterday, Chelsea now need just a home victory over Wigan Athletic in next weekend’s season finale to ensure the trophy heads their way for the first time in four years.
And although this particular EPL season has contained some unlikely twists and turns, with Chelsea suffering their faire share of unanticipated stumbles along the way, surely they will claim the required victory next weekend — Wigan are a vastly inferior team who have nothing to play for, so Manchester United fans would be advised not to set their expectations too high.
It was entirely appropriate that Chelsea’s match-winning goals against Liverpool — which effectively secured the title — were scored by Drogba and Lampard, who have been the Blues’ attacking inspiration for years.
Both of them boast exceptional goalscoring records — Drogba with 127 in 259 appearances for the Blues; Lampard with 156 in 476 — and, as evidenced again this weekend, they also possess the ability to score important goals at important times.
Lampard’s goal return (one in every three games) is especially impressive for a midfielder and, on the assumption that he goes on to enjoy his third title triumph next weekend, he can now certainly be regarded as one of the greatest players in the club’s history.
Having broken into the first team at West Ham United — his first club — at such an early age, Lampard was already an established top flight performer by the time he joined Chelsea for £11 million (RM55 million) in the summer of 2001.
But he did have to overcome initial scepticism amongst many Chelsea supporters, who harshly believed that his progress at West Ham was largely due to the influence of the team’s assistant manager and his father, Frank Lampard Sr.
Those doubters have since been emphatically proven wrong, with Lampard becoming the single most important player for the Blues throughout their period of recent success (narrowly edging ahead of his great mate John Terry by virtue of the number of goals he’s scored). He has registered at least 10 league goals in each of the last seven seasons, and also shown remarkable durability by missing just 20 league games during his nine years at Stamford Bridge.
Yet, it’s difficult to define exactly what makes Lampard such a great player. He lacks pace, isn’t particularly strong or athletic, is little more than average in the air and no better than reasonable as a passer of the ball; in short, his physical attributes don’t tell the tale of a player who can play such a dominant role for so many years in the most demanding league in the world.
The qualities that set Lampard apart are the great intangibles — the vital attributes of anticipation, game understanding and instinct that can’t be taught or coached; the unquantifiable things that can’t be defined on spreadsheets or measured in gyms.
You either have the ability to get into the right positions for goalscoring opportunities to come your way, or you don’t. Lampard has those intangibles, and they have played a major part in Chelsea’s golden era.
Drogba’s powers are easier to define. His physical presence is so great that, when in full flow, he is almost impossible to defend against. Of course, the Ivorian also possesses a considerable amount of natural talent, but without his physical prowess he would be half the player.
He has led Chelsea’s line superbly for the last seven years, providing a focal point for their attack as well as scoring goals with impressive regularity. It’s no coincidence that Chelsea’s first title came at the end of his first season at Stamford Bridge, and he will be an extremely difficult player to replace when his powers finally begin to wane.
And there lies the long-term difficulty that Chelsea face. As I mentioned last week, their squad contains a number of ageing stars whose best days will soon be behind them — Drogba, Lampard, Anelka, Deco, Ballack... they are all well into their 30s and will soon need replacing.
But those concerns will be addressed at a later date. For now, Chelsea can celebrate their success at Anfield and look forward to confirming their status as Premier League champions.