Are Chelsea still title contenders or not? While the gap from the top is going to be extremely difficult to erase, they’re hitting the right kind of form during the most grueling time of the season. They’re even getting more and the most from someone who knows he’s unwanted for the next season. Frank Lampard wants to prove he needs to stay.

Next season? Talk about January. With no contract beyond June 2013, there’s a good chance that Lampard might leave in January. Earlier this season, when Roberto Di Matteo was in charge, that didn’t look like such a big deal. Lampard was injured and not so much in the plans of the Italian manager. With Rafa Benitez he’s still part of a rotation, but a much more important one.

It was his calming presence on the finishing end that gave Chelsea their toughest win in the season, coming back from behind to beat Everton 1-2 in Goodison Park. Chelsea simply didn’t show up for the first 25 minutes. Long ball after long ball got wasted, while the midfield was simply left useless and nearly evaporated as Everton players swept the field. Petr Cech did concede a goal, but he saved plenty of them during the first half.

At some moment, Chelsea stopped going through the air and went to the ground. They realized that Ramires, this time as the retreated winger, is left open all the time, and started moving the ball through him. David Luiz left the centre back position and started pushing more and more forward, while Frank Lampard was allowed to venture into areas he’s more comfortable with, areas he can score in.

Juan Mata finally got a lot more involved, and Chelsea of the final 65 minutes looked very different than the one that started the match. No, Fernando Torres didn’t score and wasn’t too dangerous in the box. However, his movement to the wings allowed a lot of space for Mata and Lampard to operate in, creating plenty of chances for the European champions in the second half. Again, Lampard was quicker and more aware than anyone, or maybe just lucky, after Tim Howard didn’t do the best of jobs with Mata’s shot.

Eden Hazard? Left out of the program. He started on the left, but his ups and downs this season and especially since Benitez took over have been extremely easy to see. It always looks like Chelsea’s natural inclination is to pull right, which leaves Hazard often less and less involved in build up and creating. It’s up to Juan Mata to find him there, or maybe for Benitez to soften the instructions a bit, and allow the Belgian to make trips to the middle or exchange wins and positions with other players.

As the new year approaches, Benitez looks much more comfortable in the manager’s seat, as well he should be. Chelsea are on the right road after wins against both cupcakes and tougher opposition, but the important thing is the ability and confidence that are there. Frank Lampard made a lot of money during his career with Chelsea, so don’t make him out to be some poor man just hoping to keep his job while he’s ruthlessly tossed aside. This is a business, and Lampard knows that. He can still give Chelsea plenty of goals, experience, leadership and that elusive clutch quality. Question is: is he worth that price?

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