Goodbye, Super Frank

There comes a time for everything to end, but it does not make it any easier to stomach. Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s all-time top goal-scorer, will not renew his contract and so today (30th June) marks the last day of his 13 years at the Club.

It neither feels right, and does feel right, at the same time. Frank Lampard, so often Chelsea’s hero in matches, the guy to rally the side alongside John Terry, is now a 36 year old who is past his prime, but the sudden nature of his departure — why was there not word spreading before our final Premier League game so we could thank him properly? — will cause some shock.

But, on the face of it, this is the time for the man to go. He has done everything for this Club. 211 goals in 648 appearances is a remarkable feat and a testament to his consistency and how he looks after his body to maintain that level year in year out. Many of those came in big matches: two to seal our first Premier League title for 50 years in 2004/2005, 25 of them came in our winning of the FA Cup and Premier League double in 2009/2010. Factor in his assists — who can forget that delightful one-two with Didier Drogba to win us the first FA Cup at the new Wembley Stadium? — and you had the complete player, and an incredibly humble and smart human to boot. Lest we forget that Lampard has rarely caused us any PR concerns and has a mentality and attitude every professional should strive for. The way he handles himself in interviews and deals with unjustified hate from rival fans (Fat Frank?!) is admirable. But you just get a sense that, as a veteran of the game and his wage demands not falling, it is time for a new breed of members to come in. He will appreciate how he jumped into the Chelsea team as a young 23-year-old and, whilst Cesc Fabregas is 27, he is deemed his replacement and is still younger, but with no compromise on the quality or big-game know-how.

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They say they we should not cry because it is over, but smile because it happened. And what a 13 years Lampard has had. Rewind back to 11th June 2001, and Chelsea had just forked out a sizeable £11 million on an unproven and raw talent, albeit a great talent. And whilst that move was met with scorn and a bit of anxiety, it is quite something when Sir Alex Ferguson goes on record to say “I must say we looked at him when he was at West Ham as a young player and I maybe regret not having done it. Where else could I get 200 goals?” And that was Lampard’s main attribute: fantastic timings to run into the box and poach a goal. He had a striker’s instinct and, without this next season, it places further emphasis on our actual strikers to deliver.

It will take up many lines to just write out all of Lampard’s club and personal achievements. Three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, one Champions League and one Europa League perhaps do not do him justice. Throw in his individual awards — four times Premier League Player of the Month, three-time Chelsea Player of the Year award winner, twice England Player of the Year, and second only to Ronaldinho in the World Player of the Year 2005 awards — and you feel very lucky as a Chelsea fan to have secured the services of such a great player for such a long time.

But, as fans, you still want to prolong that stay, for no-one wants to see him go. Not so much out of loyalty, but he can always offer something. Another year in a player-coach role, like Ryan Giggs had at Manchester United last year, would have appealed to us but maybe not Lampard himself, who can still offer a lot as a player and promotional figure ending his career in the States.

The event itself of Frank Lampard opting to leave is not the surprise. All good things come to an end and, with Chelsea and Frank Lampard, we have not just had a ‘good thing’, we have had a ‘fantastic thing’. But the nature of the departure and the timing surrounding it — it was just a quick statement from Lampard as he hurriedly caught the plane with England to go to the World Cup — will surprise many. Maybe it was as rash and spontaneous a decision as the revealing of it, or maybe Frank Lampard was calculated and did not want to go through the long goodbyes, for they do feel eternally more painful. One always wishes to leave on a high note and it is just a shame that, though I am sure he was delighted to end his Chelsea career with José Mourinho, he would have hoped to leave with a defining moment and a trophy, a la Didier Drogba.

All we know is that this is a guy who has given Chelsea more than what any other player has given Chelsea, and for that, Mr Frank James Lampard, we say thank you and goodbye.

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Chelsea 3-0 Stoke City: Match Reaction

Match Summary

Chelsea returned to the summit of the Premier League once again thanks to a convincing win against Stoke City.

A potential banana skin of a game, Mohamed Salah settled early Chelsea nerves, before an assured second half display was rewarded with goals from Frank Lampard and Willian.

It means the Blues, albeit “falsely” accordingly to Jose Mourinho due to rival teams having matches in hand which would see Chelsea fall places again, return to first place, albeit for maybe only 24 hours.

Regardless of the league position, it must have been relieving for Chelsea to end this difficult week with a win. Last week’s clanger at Crystal Palace, coupled with the mid-week disappointment in Paris has seen Mourinho criticised in a few circles as the test really is on the Londoners.

But they responded in fantastic style against a side who beat them in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

Effective Stoke organisation in the opening half-hour thwarted Chelsea but that all changed in the 32nd minute. From an innocuous-looking throw-in, Nemanja Matic found himself at the by-line, and using his imposing physique, managed to square the ball back to Mohamed Salah, waiting in acres of space in the middle of the penalty area. The 21-year-old still had a lot to do — the ball arrived at him at pace — but, on his favoured left-foot, slotted home expertly to record his second league goal after rounding off the 6-0 demolition of Arsenal last month.

Huge periods of keep-ball ensued and, for a period, it looked as if Chelsea were intent on holding out for the 1-0 win. Certainly with the line-up omitting Oscar and Hazard, one would have been excused for thinking Mourinho had other matches in mind.

But with the latter introduced in the second half, the Chelsea performance was raised a gear. It was Hazard and Salah who worked effectively to draw a penalty out of Wilkinson and Lampard, though missing the initial effort, was thankful the ricochet fell kindly at his feet for the rebound.

Willian, who had been so influential in the match rounded off his display with a phenomenal goal, taking on his man before quickly side-stepping away from the defenders. In that split-second, he had worked himself a shooting opportunity and zipped it past Begovic expertly, to settle the match and the points.

Man of the Match

MOHAMED SALAH:  Constantly buzzed around the pitch. The Egyptian has been told that his time will come next season and that he must adjust to life in England for now, and though he no Hazard just yet, his energy and pace was vital for a match like this. Gave Stoke all sorts of problems and popped up with an exceptionally well-taken goal as Matic’s assist came at speed. 8/10

Manager Reaction

Mourinho was delighted his players reacted to the week’s set-backs: “I think the players played well. Normally after a defeat you don’t start confidently but this team today went upwards all the time. The team played well and we were solid defensively. That was only possible with the contribution of every player.”

Mark Hughes was less impressed with his set of players: “We didn’t have enough players at their maximum today. We weren’t able to ask enough questions of a good Chelsea team. They carry a strong squad and the players that come in and come off the bench are of a high quality.”

Stats

Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa: key stats

stats

Possession (%):  69 | 31

Passes: 677 | 286

Accuracy (%): 88 | 69

Passes In Final Third: 175 | 100

Accuracy (%): 67 | 50

stats2

 

Chelsea 2-0 Hull City: in pictures

The cameras were trained on Jose Mourinho for his first match back in charge of Chelsea. But for a full picture, enjoy the view of where I was, three rows behind the dugout. Included is 184 photos of the day’s events, from warm-up, key action and full-time.

 

Chelsea 2-1 Everton

Chelsea avoided a possible play-off and secured third place thanks to a Fernando Torres winner to send Rafael Benitez out on a high.

Juan Mata had given Chelsea the lead in the seventh minute, but Naismith levelled seven minutes later. With the score remaining 1-1 until the 75th minute, one eye was on the Arsenal game, but Chelsea were left to thank Torres’ short-range bullet to preserve May’s unbeaten record.

In truth, the game was near enough a dead-rubber. Everton has secured 6th place whilst Chelsea, in 3rd or 4th, had guaranteed a Champions League berth for next season. But you would have been forgiven for thinking this would have had the intensity of a training ground match. Far from it.

Everton had the desire to make sure David Moyes signed out with a victory, and, as bizarre as it may seem 47 matches later, it seemed Chelsea had some motives to part company with Benitez with three points also. The growing respect for the Spaniard, as so often the case, comes as he is about to leave, but not without a Europa League to his CV.

And though there was little to play for, both teams respected the Premier League until the end. Chelsea handed a first Premier League start to Nathan Ake, whilst Andreas Christiensen was involved with the first-team for the first time, being on the bench. Despite the youth, there was still experimental force. Ba and Torres were starting, albeit not as a partnership with the Spaniard as the right-winger.

And on the back of that Amsterdam win mid-week, there was a real jovial atmosphere around Stamford Bridge, which was reciprocated on the field of play. Demba Ba nearly broke the deadlock three minutes in but Distin stood his ground.

The warning signs were there and Chelsea did make them pay moments later. Ba’s shot this time was saved by Howard, but Mata was on hand to score his 20th of the season.

Steven Naismith had other ideas just as Chelsea fans were hoping for a comfortable win, capitalising on a David Luiz mistake and firing past Cech, as the game started in terrific fashion.

The tempo did not cease: Everton his the post twice in an end-to-end match, whilst Torres had opportunities. Ake was holding firm, just about, in the holding midfield role, whilst his defensive partner continued to show his capabilities on the back of that one-year contract extension, nearly doubling the host’s lead on the stroke of half-time after the game’s best passage of play.

Gary Cahill’s left-foot drive was well stopped by Howard’s two hands whilst Ba had all the time in the world to score, but found Distin in his way.

So too did Oscar become fearful of the menacing Everton central defender. One on one with the Frenchman, the Brazilian opted for the long-range daisy-cutter, rather than meeting Distin man-for-man. It was a lethargic effort but a tiring season, and no doubt the sheer size of Distin on Oscar dissuaded the Brazilian from trying to race the 35-year-old.

Jelavic had a glorious opportunity to give Everton the lead but his tame left-foot try was smothered by Cech, whilst Ivanovic could not work wonders with his right foot as he did with his head on Wednesday. The Serbian had plenty of space on the penalty spot to turn and shoot, but skied it high and wide.

Torres showed his how to score, however, just two minutes later. Ba had, by now, been substituted, and so the Spaniard took up the more advanced centre forward role. Ake’s slow build-up play eventually came to Moses’, who headed down for Torres to half-volley home past Howard’s near post: 2-1.

It was the former Liverpool striker’s first goal in the Premier League for over 19 and a half hours, time spanning back to the last calendar year, but it was the crucial winner as Chelsea end another turbulent season with joy.

 

Benfica 1-2 Chelsea

Chelsea became the first side in history to hold both the Champions League and Europa League trophies at the same time after a stoppage-time winner from Branislav Ivanovic.

Fernando Torres, who becomes the first ever player to win the Europa League, Champions League, World Cup and the European Championship, gave the Blues the lead just before the hour mark, before Cardozo levelled from the spot eight minutes later.

But the drama continued to the very last and like in Munich, it was another Juan Mata corner that had a telling say, with Ivanovic leaping highest to ensure Chelsea of another major European trophy.

It means now Chelsea have another shot at UEFA Super Cup glory, having been taught a lesson by Atletico Madrid and Falcao last time, with either Dortmund or Bayern Munich awaiting the lucrative tie in Prague at the end of August.

No side has ever won UEFA’s top two club competitions in reverse order in successive campaigns, and whilst it may be seen as inferior to the Champions League, there was no hiding the delight of another major trophy to get the hands of.

And where last year was Drogba’s final, this was Torres and Ivanovic’s, who played little or no part in the showpiece event in Munich 361 days ago.

It caps off a remarkable year for Chelsea, who were in the running for SEVEN trophies going into the season (Community Shield, Super Cup, Club World Cup, Premier League, League Cup, FA Cup and the Champions League), but it typifies Chelsea to do the unpredictable and win a trophy they were never in the hunt for.

Rafa Benitez can now sign off with a European trophy to his CV, as can Chelsea to its history books, but it was sheer horror for Benfica. The Portuguese side were firmly in the hunt for a treble just four days ago, but a stoppage-time defeat to Porto, and another last-gasp loss here, mean they may just end their campaign with a Portuguese Cup.

It was Benfica who, in actual fact, started the match better. Despite Chelsea having won their last five encounters with Portuguese opponents, the Blues only had 38% of the possession. Cardozo set the warning signs off just two minutes in when he had a free header, whilst Gaitan similarly had chances of his own.

Perez’s menacing run brought the game’s first card against Oscar for cynically stopping him, but it incentivised Chelsea to play better.

Mata’s shot was unconventionally punched away by Artur, whilst Lampard’s swerving long-range effort was destined for the goal, only for a fantastic, acrobatic stop by the Benfica keeper.

The pulsating action did not cease going into the second half. Chelsea were exploited down a weak right-hand side of Azpilicueta and Ramires, but neither Salvio or Cardozo could take full advantage despite some wonderful Benfica passing.

Just like Ribery had the ball in the net last year, Cardozo similarly had to in the 50th minute, but was similarly dismayed to see the offside flay, correctly, be raised.

Slowly Chelsea were getting back into the game and the first goal was a real gift.

Cech’s hopeful throw out was to the centre of the park and Mata’s vital flick-on found Torres. The Spaniard showed his strength to muscle out Luisao before showing his composure and skill to first dummy a shot, before finally pulling the trigger and giving Chelsea the advantage.

The striker has had an indifferent season in the league this campaign, but there can be no denying the man in Europe. Only Ronaldo (12) and Lewandowski (10) have scored more goals than Fernando Torres (9) in Europe this season.

The lead did not last long as Azpilicueta stopped the ball with his hand as Chelsea conceded their sixth penalty in Europe this season, two more than any other side in the Europa League or Champions League. Cardozo slammed home from the spot, as Cech could not repeat his Munich heroics.

Cardozo nearly bagged a brace when the ball dropped kindly at his feet, and his half-volley drew the best out of Cech, who tipped it over with his fingertips.

Lampard, running sideways, nearly won it for the Blues as his 30 yard strike cannoned off the crossbar; it deserved to go in.

The Blues have actually won 63% of their European ties that have not involved John Terry compared to 47% when he has played, but there can be no denying his presence in the box at corners. Fear not when there is Cahill or Ivanovic, and the latter scored in the 93rd minute, powerfully planting the ball into the far corner as Benfica were shell-shocked.

There was still work to be done as Cardozo failed to get the ball out of his feet before Cahill smoothered, but by then, we were already well past the three minutes officially added on, and a new trophy is Chelsea’s.

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Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea

Frank Lampard became Chelsea’s all-time top scorer as his brace as good as seals Champions League qualification for next season.

The veteran midfielder equalised, after Christian Benteke had opened the scoring, with a thumping left-foot drive, and his winner, one minute from time, was his trademark late run into the box and a simple tap-in that brought, finally, goal number 203.

It means Lampard is now outright top scorer, overtaking Bobby Tambling. And because of his double, Chelsea are all-but guaranteed a top-four league finish due to the goal different superiority over Tottenham (+35 to +18).

The Blues would not have wanted it to be dragged out to the last match of the season, which will be David Moyes’ goodbye match at Everton, and now full concentrations can go to the Europa League match mid-week.

Chelsea are unbeaten in their past six Premier League matches, but against a relegation-threatened Aston Villa side, it was always going to be a tough call.

The reverse fixture earlier this season saw Chelsea set a new Premier League record for the most number of different scorers (7) in a match, but the goals would not be flowing in this time. Even though the West Midlands side have not kept a clean sheet in their last 20 league matches, the attacking prowess of Benteke and Agbonlahor would always test a shaky Chelsea, who let a lead slip against Tottenham mid-week. The Blues have, in actual fact, only won 23% of the last 70 games played away to Aston Villa, and with Villa looking to win 3 league matches in a row for the first time in three years, the match would go right down to the wire.

And it was The Claret And Blue side that started the better of the two, rewarded with a goal inside the first quarter of an hour. Benteke was allowed tons of room to run down the left-side after a misplaced Cahill pass, and his shot crept inside the near post of Cech to give the hosts a shock opener. Benteke is now the third-highest scorer this calendar year in Europe’s top five leagues, behind only Messi and Ronaldo.

The European Champions have scored 141 goals in 66 matches this season — the club record is 142 goals set in 2009-10 — but the record-equalling goal proved elusive.

Guzan was stopping Ba, Mata and a Lampard free-kick, and matters were made worse when Ramires needlessly picked up two yellow cards in the space of 28 minutes. The Brazilian was eventually shown his marching orders for a high foot, as the uphill battle was getting away from Chelsea.

Luiz replaced the ineffective Moses as Benitez looked to make up for the lost holding midfielder, and this gave Lampard licence to roam, whilst Luiz was composed in the defensive role.

Villa had more chances than Chelsea to score the game’s next goal, but the turning point once again was to be another second yellow card, this time for Benteke, who was again sent off for a high boot. Lee Mason showed the respected consistency.

10 versus 10 allowed Chelsea to not be so defensive and that brought the game’s first goal. Lampard scored Chelsea’s 142nd goal of the season, as well as his 202nd, in a double record-breaking move. Hazard played the ball to Lampard, and the midfielder, with his back to goal, showed a striker’s instinct by swinging around and unleashing an unstoppable left-foot strike, to record his 14th league goal of the season on his 550th Premier League appearance.

Team accomplishments always outweigh personal achievements, as showed with Lampard’s subdued celebration, as Chelsea had the best part of half an hour to score a winner.

Ba looked to have that when Cahill’s strike was stopped by Villa on the line, and Ba looked to get the vital touch that took the whole of the ball over the whole of the line, but with the incident over in a matter of milliseconds, neither Lee Mason nor the linesman could be certain it was a goal.

John Terry suffered an ankle injury on his 550th start for Chelsea in all competitions today, and whilst it would have been nice for him to be on the pitch to celebrate Lampard’s record-breaking goal, it was a phenomenal moment to see Lampard get it wearing the captain’s armband.

Hazard’s one-two with Cole penetrated the back-line and the Belgian then squared to the onrushing Lampard, to tap home his 203rd goal for Chelsea, his 165th in the Premier League, and the 999th in the Premier League this season. It means Lampard has now scored more goals versus Aston Villa than any other side in his Premier League career (13).

Aston Villa surged in the seven minutes of added time but there was no erasing Lampard’s contribution to a fine game, capped off in remarkable style. His brace means Champions League football next season. Whether he gets to savour in his and his team’s achievement next season remains to be seen.