Should Lampard be worried about James Milner?

Last night’s England game didn’t really produce much in the way of revelations. Peter Crouch can score in an England shirt, Wayne Rooney gives his all no matter what the importance of the occasion and John Terry has a minority of detractors but most people are getting bored of it all now. It was a fairly routine day at the office for practically everyone concerned. The only intriguing aspect of last night’s game, other than the fact SWP may have leapfrogged young Theo in the right wing stakes, was that in less than 20 minutes of football James Milner made a case for a place in the starting XI in South Africa.

Of the dead certs on display, three of which wore the captain’s armband during the course of the evening, Frank Lampard was the only one who may feel a slight twinge of worry. Rooney, Gerrard, Barry and Terry should all start if their fit, of that there can be little doubt.  Crouch may have forced his way into the first-team but then again there’s still two months of the season left and a lot can happen if you’re a striker-especially a striker at Tottenham. Expect to see him and Defoe passing to each other a lot less from now on, that’s if Pavlyuchenko doesn’t get in the way of that potential drama.

The only man who may have felt a little unsure of his guaranteed start by the time the final whistle blew is Frank Lampard. Whoa, whoa, I hear you cry. The same Frank Lampard who on Saturday took his tally for the season to 12 goals? The same Frank Lampard who’s scored 20 goals for England and is a legend in the modern era?  Well, yes, that Frank Lampard. Before you all think I’ve got a little bit over excited as to the importance of a friendly against a team that won’t even be going to the world cup, allow me to explain.

It’s probably one of the worst kept secrets in football, other than Wayne Rooney’s not a bad player and all of a sudden the word ‘footballers’ and ‘role-models’  are meant to be congruous, that Frank Lampard is not having the most consistent season. I know he bagged a brace at the weekend, but he hasn’t always been influencing games in quite the same way. 12 goals? That surely proves he is, I hear you cry. Well, maybe, maybe not. Six of those goals have come from penalties- hardly a crime admittedly but if you take away penalties his exploits no longer look as impressive. There seems to be a penchant for statistics in this day and age, so if your just about to go onto or whatever its called, allow me to save you the bother- he’s got 10 assists, which is quite a decent return, oh and he was born in Romford and is 1.83m.

Lampard has the same number of assists and goals in the league, this season as he had in the whole of last season, and the season before that, and the season before that. In fact you have to go back to his last title-winning campaign to find a time when Lampard was more productive- and obviously the season’s not over yet so he may top that.

In terms of statistics he’s doing great. So how can he be being less consistent? Well, allow me to explain.  He’s scoring in fits and starts, rather than every other game or so. For example Lampard has scored in eight games this season out of 26 starts. Now that’s a good record but it also shows he’s not scored in 18 games or if we’re gonna go statistic mad, over two-thirds of the games he’s started he’s failed to score, also considering in four of those games his goals were penalties it makes it less impressive.  He’s also had more shots than any other Chelsea player bar Drogba, so it’s not for the want of trying.

That part of the argument is fairly benign though, the fact is regardless of however harsh you are on his performances this season statistics show he’s still got end product to his game and is one of the most influential players in the league, which actually makes me wonder why I bothered trawling through all those stats, but hey, as Wayne Rooney said “we all make mistakes, you’ve just gotta learn from them.” 

No my first point is this, for England Lampard often doesn’t seem as comfortable as he does for Chelsea in fact the argument as to whether him and Gerrard can play together, has yet to be really and truly put to bed after all these years. The last World Cup was a bit of a disaster for Lampard as he had more shots than anyone in the side-or possibly even the tournament- and failed to find the net once-including the important shot from 12 yards against Portugal.  His performances in the qualifiers for Euro 2008 were not that great, his only goal coming from the penalty spot in the final game against Croatia.

Admittedly he has been better in these qualifiers banging in four goals, one more than Gerrard. Now with Barry seemingly certain to be picked for the anchor midfield role, and either Lennon or SWP or whoever for the right, that leaves Rooney and his strike partner plus Gerrard and Lampard.  It just doesn’t seem to have any sort of balance.

This brings me on to my final point, Milner can occupy the left side of midfield if needed to and look a lot more comfortable there than Gerrard. It seems a waste to put a player who is obviously truly world class down the middle, out on the left hand side where they’re not suited. Although Milner has been playing for Villa down the middle lately, he has occupied the left midfield position in the past and looked more than happy there.

A midfield of Lennon, Barry, Gerrard and Milner looks a lot more balanced than a midfield of Lennon, Barry, Gerrard and Lampard.  Milner’s been one of the big success stories this season and his tally of 4 league goals and 11 assists, while not as impressive as Lampard’s is good enough to make you think he could be a threat for England. Last night Milner did well when he came on cutting in from the left, linking up with Baines, and even rattling off a decent shot –with his left foot- that led to SWP’s goal. The idea of seeing Milner on the left side of a four man midfield at the expense of Lampard suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

There is a third option, play them both, as Rooney’s proved for United, he can play as a lone striker and still be a world-beater. This may be less likely though considering Capello practically always gives him a strike partner. In any case if I was Frank Lampard- and watching the One Show I often wish I was- then I’d be a little bit concerned that Milner may have given Capello a bit of food for thought.

Read more of Justin Mottershead work at his blog ‘Name is on the Trophy’