Why Lampard form is stuff of Chelsea legend (and Spanish teams should be watching)

Andre Villas-Boas' demise was a bitter, ugly period in the history of Chelsea under Roman Abramovich.
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Andre Villas-Boas' demise was a bitter, ugly period in the history of Chelsea under Roman Abramovich.

The reports of a mocking, taunting senior clique inside the Blues locker room, the leaks to the press and the isolation of a young coach desperate to fulfil the club's demands left many furious.

The fallout may yet be felt by those responsible.

But for now, with the FA Cup in the trophy cabinet and a Champions League final to look forward to, even the most cynical are acknowledging that AVB did - in part - contribute to his own downfall.

A protagonist during his short rein was Frank Lampard.

Frozen out by the Portuguese earlier this season, Lampard has repaid the faith of Roberto di Matteo to produce some of the best football of his career. No matter what you felt of the England midfielder's role in AVB's sacking, Lampard's impact in the last month is the stuff of legend.

After their famous triumph over Barcelona at Stamford Bridge, Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez, a Catalan, highlighted the one strength English football had over Spain - and how Chelsea could upset the defending European champs in the return-leg.

"At Stamford Bridge you saw the biggest difference between the Premier League and La Liga; it's in the transitional play, as soon as you lose the ball, that period of three seconds. In England they kill you in those three seconds. In the first leg Messi gives the ball away to Lampard and three seconds later it is in the back of the net.

"The difference is what a team does when it first regains possession. In Spain they like to keep the ball, relieve the pressure and then start to attack. Here the first pass on regaining possession is forward. The Barcelona midfield could not cope with the speed of that transition. They could not get back into the box in time to stop Ramires and Drogba and it was started by a great ball from Lampard."

Lampard went one better in the second-leg. Winning possession, he got his head up and falling away, hit a wonderful inside pass for Ramires to run onto and lob Victor Valdes for that all important goal just before halftime. It was a piece of genius from Lampard which, as Martinez predicted, caught Barca completely flat-footed.

Against Spanish opposition, Barca would've had time to track back. The first action of any La Liga player in Lampard's position would've been to maintain possession. Knock it back or sideways, don't run the risk of losing the ball again. The Premier League culture of getting the ball forward, which worked so well for Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid this season, served Lampard perfectly and delivered an improbable triumph to Chelsea.

For all the midfield talent on show, it wasn't Xavi, Andres Iniesta or even Lionel Messi who proved the most decisive player over the two legs. It was 33 year-old Lampard. At Wembley on Saturday it was the same. It wasn't Steven Gerrard who broke open the game, but Lampard, whose superbly judged pass sent Didier Drogba clear for the decisive second goal of the FA Cup final.

Di Matteo is now having Chelsea play largely through Lampard and he's thriving on the responsibility. He reads the press, we know he listens to the talkback. Emerging from the AVB controversy, the pressure and scrutiny will have been immense. Even his ex had his kids wearing Barca shirts for the Champions League semi!

But Lampard has grabbed his new chance with both hands.
"I know some people think Barcelona are the masters of the game and will criticise Chelsea like they criticised Inter Milan two years ago. But they know nothing about character, about effort, about a team with 10 men resisting tactically, physically, everything," declared Mourinho after that famous night at the Nou Camp. He could well have been speaking of Lampard alone.

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