Saturday, October 6, 2012
Lamps stamps unfamiliar mark on Blues
Kevin Palmer, Stamford Bridge
When iconic footballers edge towards the final chapter of their glorious careers, they are often required to find a revised niche in a team and Frank Lampard appears to be ready to do just that in a new-look Chelsea line-up.
He may have carved out his Stamford Bridge legend as a free-scoring midfield hero who had mastered the art of timing his runs into the box, but the 34-year-old Lampard seems content to rebrand himself in what may be his final year as a Premier League star as he eases the transition between the old and the new at Chelsea.
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Life as a holding midfielder may be a little less fun for Lampard in the final year of his Chelsea contract, but it has to be better than an existence warming the bench, which has been his lot as manager Roberto Di Matteo's midfield trio of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata have been given a chance to establish a dynamic new partnership.
On the evidence of this assured performance against an outgunned Norwich side, Lampard is more than capable of providing a majestic base for Chelsea's diminutive midfield triumvirate to weave their magic, with the transition from old to new under Di Matteo enhanced by the presence of all-time greats of the club's recent and glorious past.
After Andre Villas-Boas' ill-conceived attempt to freeze Lampard out of his Chelsea plans backfired in desperate fashion during his doomed spell as Chelsea boss last season, his successor in the Stamford Bridge hot-seat is employing a far more intelligent approach as he handles the enduring Blues heroes with delicate care.
While Di Matteo is essentially carrying out the revamping operation Villas-Boas failed to execute at this stage of last season, he is doing the job with a more sympathetic touch and Lampard looks content with his place in a pecking order that has been politely defined by the methodical Blues boss.
So on a day when Oscar, Hazard and Mata were the focal point of Chelsea's attacking master plan once more, Lampard's calming presence at the base of the midfield was as assuring as it was impressive, with his ability to take chances when they come his way still apparently as razor sharp as ever.
After the visitors took a shock lead through Grant Holt after nine minutes, Chelsea were forced onto the front foot and after a fine equaliser from a jaded looking Fernando Torres, Lampard's 129th Premier League goal after 22 minutes reminded us that he can still be an influence at the highest level. Latching onto the second ball as it rolled into his path on the edge of the box, his finish was a crisp as it was accurate. It was trademark Lampard.
The strike took him level with Chelsea great Bobby Tambling as the club's all-time leading scorer in the top flight of English football, with the exuberant celebrations that followed confirming his eagerness to soak up every remaining moment of glory in his blue shirt.
Lampard's willingness to collect the ball from his back line and offload it to his fresh faced team mates in attacking positions was a recurring theme of a game that was all but over before half-time, as the Torres and Lampard goals were complimented by a fine third from Eden Hazard after 31 minutes. A thumping strike from Branislav Ivanovic
14 minutes from time confirmed Chelsea's superiority once and for all, as they won this match with plenty to spare.
In truth, Norwich contributed to their own downfall in this game with some woeful defending that inspired their irate manager Chris Hughton to lambast his players on a consistent basis, yet most opponents would have struggled to halt an attacking Chelsea machine that is starting to purr with ominous intent.
This is now Chelsea's finest start to a Premier League season in six years, but Di Matteo's press briefing was inevitably dominated by issues that had little relevance to their latest victory, as the political storm surrounding John Terry, Ashley Cole and the unsavoury racist abuse story that refuses to disperse were top of the agenda once more.
"I had no doubt about playing Terry and Cole. I see them at the training ground every day and they are professionals," stated Di Matteo, who confirmed Cole will face internal disciplinary after his Twitter rant at the Football Association on Friday. "However, I prefer to talk about football, so it would be nice if we could do that."
The media pack were reluctant to let Di Matteo follow his own script, but the Chelsea boss managed to throw out some positive vibes as his side cemented their place atop the Premier League standings. "Our results are telling us that we are able to blank out things that are surrounding us and we can focus on our aim to win football games," he added. "We are scoring lots of goals, have many different players scoring them and the team is getting results. This is more important than anything else."
Norwich manager Hughton admitted he faces a 'huge challenge' as he looks to stamp his authority on the Carrow Road job, but he is not hitting the panic button as he heads into the international break still seeking his first win. "I knew this was going to be a tough job as I am trying to follow someone who enjoyed three very successful years at Norwich," stated the former Newcastle boss. "All we can do is continue to work and try to turn it around."
Meanwhile, Chelsea manager Di Matteo must have been relieved to get back to the business of playing football after another week when off-field issues took the limelight away from his side's impressive form.
Terry and his courtroom comrade Cole may continue to steal the headlines of a salacious press pack, but the clean living Lampard will assume the more traditional heroic role at a club that seems to be thrust into soap opera plotlines more often than most.
His days as Chelsea's leading light may be over, but reports of Lampard's permanent demise may have been premature.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Juan Mata
The Spaniard was at the heart of everything that was good about Chelsea, with his pace, movement and passing accuracy too much for Norwich to deal with.
PRE MATCH SOAKING: Chelsea's over-eager PA announcer was showered by the Stamford Bridge pitch sprinklers a couple of weeks back and this time, an innocent kid was caught in the crossfire as he performed pre-match tricks with a football to entertain the crowd. He was nearly knocked over by the spray, but battled on heroically.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo will not ban his players from using social networking sites after the storm created by Ashley Cole's Twitter rant, but he has urged caution from his troops. "I remain in favour of the social media, but they have to be used sensibly," he stated. "It is a good way to communicate if done well. If my players breach a rule, there will be a consequence."
NORWICH VERDICT: Games against opposition of this quality will not decide their fate, but their lack of defensive organisation as Chelsea picked them off with ease was a major concern for boss Hughton. He needs to find a way of rebooting his side ahead of his next game in two weeks.
CHELSEA VERDICT: Some suggested this would be a season of transition as Chelsea looked to reinvent themselves after last term's Champions League heroics, but their new boys have settled quickly and have enough verve to sustain a title challenge. While some of their rivals at the top falter, Roberto Di Matteo's men are threatening to emerge as the class of the pack.