We keep hearing about the importance of the Chelsea old guard, but at some point, its time has to end. Maybe John Terry and Frank Lampard have an influence that goes beyond what they bring onto the pitch in terms of ability, which isn’t too special most of the time, but for the club to remain an elite one, the reins have to move on to better, younger players.
It’s not just a matter of youth, but mostly of ability. Frank Lampard is 35, and if you look at his scoring record – 13 goals this season (five of them off penalty kicks), you’ll think he’s having one of the best seasons by a midfielder in the Premier League this year. But that’s quite far off the truth. Lampard doesn’t like playing as a central midfielder, but everyone knows that playing either Juan Mata or Eden Hazard as the attacking midfielder is better for Chelsea – more mobile, better passers. They’re both just as good of scorers as Lampard as well.
Terry used to be one of the best centre backs in the world, partially because he was playing next to Ricardo Carvalho. At 32, he shouldn’t hang up his boots, while his aerial ability and leadership skills are still something that few possess, but his tackling is more and more off target and the timing it used to be, while his physical dominance isn’t what it used to be as well. Without actual deep playmakers in the squad, Chelsea need more of what David Luiz can bring to the table in terms of his skills with the ball, as a shooter and a passer.
It’s hard disconnecting from the present and past in favor of the future. Andre Villas-Boas tried to do it and got sacked for it for being too abrupt and clean with his surgery attempts. Roberto Di Matteo gave the old gang one last try and won the Champions League, mostly thanks to brave defending, which most people refer to as ugly football and parking the bus.
This season, he tried going in a different direction early on, which seemed to be working, but other problems (like not being the world’s most brilliant tactician), especially the lack of quality central midfielders, came back to bite him. Rafa Benitez is simply juggling with an exhausted squad in an attempt to leave as a success – a Champions League spot and a Europa League title in his pocket.
Like with other clubs, it’s about what Chelsea want from the future, the immediate one. Terry and Lampard might be the heart and soul of the team, but they can’t carry on playing in the lineup if they’re not good enough for the standards. For an ambitious club like Chelsea, the standard has to be higher than fighting for a spot in the Champions League, higher than not making it out of the group stage. Like it or not, both of them shouldn’t be starting for a team that wants to be more than that.