Thursday, 10 October 2013

Football Mythbusters II: Playing Gerrard and Lampard Together

Few English footballs epitomise English football in the last decade more than Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Between them they have amassed over 200 caps and scored almost 50 goals. At club level too they have been at the forefront of Liverpool and Chelsea's respective charges at home and in Europe. Both are Champions League winners. Lampard a three time Premier League champion, Gerrard a PFA Player of the Year.

Two icons of the Premier League era.

Two very similar players and two very similar career paths at club and international level.

Gerrard broke into the Liverpool side in the early 2000s playing primarily as a defensive midfielder (a position he has since reverted to) in Gerard Houlier's team. He was gradually allowed more attacking freedom and in his box-to-box days of roughly 2003-2006 established himself as one of the best players, let alone midfielders, of the Premier League era. Rafael Benitez and his odd way of doing things saw Gerrard moved out to the right wing regularly, to the annoyance of several fans, between 2005 and 2007. Fernando Torres arrival at the club in 2007 saw the Liverpool captain play effectively as a 2nd striker at times. It was here during the 08/09 season that he came closest to securing the elusive league title medal. His career has naturally declined since and he has moved back from this attacking midfield role to the defensive midfield role he now occupies in Brendan Rodgers side.

Lampard hasn't had quite the same varied journey Gerrard has had in terms of midfield position. Until recently he was always an attacking midfielder. Lacking the flair and creativity of a true number 10, Lampard preferred to double up as a 2nd striker, arriving late in the box or shooting form distance being his preferred methods of scoring. Methods which have made him the highest scoring Premier League midfielder of all time and the highest scoring Chelsea player of all time. Remarkable achievements. Rafael Benitez, who seems to have a tendancy to use these players in different positions used Lampard in a more defensive role during his tenure at Chelsea last season. This decision made sense due to Frank's age and the array of talent he had further up the pitch in Oscar, Hazard and Mata.

Lampard made his England debut first, in October 1999 against Belgium. Gerrard followed suit eight months later winning his first cap in a Euro 2000 warm-up match against Ukraine. Manager at the time Kevin Keegan obviously liked what he saw and included Gerrard in his 23 man squad for the tournament, even playing him in the 1-0 win over Germany. Lampard was not so lucky and was in and out of England squads at the beginning of the decade, unfortunately missing the cut for Euro 2000 and the World Cup in 2002, despite injury ruling Gerrard out of this tournament.

It was 2003, under Sven Goran Eriksson that they finally appeared together in an England side, facing Serbia and Montenegro in a friendly in June 2003. About this time Gerrard had just become captain of Liverpool and was busy establishing himself as the best centre midfielder in the Premier League. Lampard was witnessing a takeover at his club Chelsea that would eventually litter his career with titles and trophies.

Euro 2004 in Portugal. Lampard and Gerrard were shoehorned into an English midfield that already contained Paul Scholes. He was shifted to the left side and retired shortly thereafter thus removing further headaches for managers. England looked good in this tournament. Wayne Rooney grabbed the headlines with four goals as England reached the quarter finals but went out to the hosts on penalties. Sven used a 4-4-2 formation with a very attack minded midfield.

England at Euro 2004
You don't have to have a strong memory of 2004 to see that this is not a defensively healthy midfield. Gerrard wasn't quite the attacking force he was to soon become so they got away with it and Sven looked to have successfully fit them both in. By the World Cup in 2006 however both players were reaching their peaks and both were very attack minded. Both had scored over 20 goals from midfield the previous season (Lampard would do so for the next four seasons). Pairing the two of them in central midfield was not gong to work.

England at the 2006 World Cup
It didn't work and once Michael Owen tore his ACL against Sweden, Sven resorted to a three-man midfield involving Owen Hargreaves holding with a half-fit Wayne Rooney struggling away on his own up front. It was so ugly at times but he had managed to include Lampard and Gerrard together in the same side, albeit with very limited success. Ironically they again went out at the quarter-final, again to Portugal, again on penalties despite being amongst the hot favourites for the tournament.

Steve Mclaren took over in 2007 and for all his flaws during his ill-fated tenure, he at least could see that a Lampard-Gerrard midfield pairing in a 4-4-2 was never going to work. Don't give him too much credit though. He experimented with wing backs in a 3-5-2 formation  with Gareth Barry as a holding midfielder and even dropped Frank Lampard for a crucial tie in Moscow which England lost en route to failure to qualify for Euro 2008. Mclaren had a wealth of talents at his disposal but could never find a way to best utilise them.

Sven couldn't make it work. Neither could Mclaren.

Up next was Fabio Capello, tasked with reforming the England side and challenging for the World Cup in 2010. Capello has the honour of being the first man to successfully incorporate the talents of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same side to form a well functioning team. England under Capello were the first European side to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, being unbeaten at the time qualification was achieved and gaining a measure of revenge over Croatia who had knocked them out of the running for Euro 2008. England won 4-1 in Zagreb and 5-1 at Wembly.

Its the 5-1 victory at Wembly in September 2009 which secured qualification that is of particular interest. On that day, Gerrard and Lampard were both outstanding, finishing with two goals each in what was a real statement of intent. England were reaching their potential. This team was contenders for the big prize next summer.

England 5-1 vs Croatia, September 2009.
This team was particularly fluid. Gerrard was used primarily as an inside forward but also drifted inside to occupy the second striker role he was accustomed to at Liverpool. Rooney, who had been used on the left regularly at United could slot in here. Lennon on the other wing provided pace and energy. Lampard played his usual midfield role, breaking forward whenever possible safe in the knowledge that Barry had no interest in attacking. Heskey really didn't do a great deal.

Anyway the great success that was to be England's 2010 World Cup was not to be. A disrupted build-up in which Capello stripped John Terry of the captaincy didn't help. England absolutely flopped at the tournament, drew the first two games, were booed off the pitch by their own fans after a lacklusture performance and 0-0 draw with Algeria and went out in embarrassing fashion, 4-1 to Germany, in the last 16.

Long term injury to Lampard in 2010/11 prevented the two from playing together that often in the Euro 2012 campaign, a tournament which the Chelsea man also missed due to injury. They are both fully fit now however so the question is can Roy Hodgson incorporate both of them into his strongest England XI (if indeed they both merit a place).

Yes. Yes he can. In fact it's easier now than at any time.

Both players have adapted their games significantly with age. Gerrard has become a defensive midfielder at Liverpool. He sits in front of the back four alongside Lucas and rarely looks to get into the box to support attacks, preferring to sit deep and leave the attacking roles to younger legs. Lampard is now actually closer to being a deep-lying playmaker than anything. He does still break forward occasionally and will probably reach double figures in terms of goals this season.

2013 Lampard and Gerrard actually works well together

Ironically, now they are perfectly suited to playing alongside each other in the middle.

Shown below is what is arguably the strongest England midfield/attack with the players available to current manager Roy Hodgson. You could make a case for the inclusion of Michael Carrick or maybe James Milner but for the sake of this article we will include both Lampard and Gerrard.

England, World Cup 2014?

This is much more balance than any of the previous formations we've seen so far. Neither Lampard nor Gerrard are energetic box to box midfielders anymore and both playing holding roles in midfield should serve England well. If they are both fit next summer, I'd expect Hodgson to start them both in Brazil and he'd be right to. The only concern being their age. Gerrard will be 35 when the World Cup comes around. Lampard will turn 36 during it. The fatigue of a long club season in which they will both have to play possibly 40 games each could be taking its toll on the ageing legs next summer. Hodgson will have to cross that bridge when he comes to it. For the upcoming qualifiers however, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are more than capable of playing in the same side as one another.

So, in summary:
  • Lampard and Gerrard (2003 - 2012 versions) could play together in the same teams however not in the middle together as part of a 4-4-2. This created a serious imbalance in midfield. The best results were with Gerrard on the wing and Lampard in the middle with a defensive midfielder for company(Gareth Barry).
  • Lampard and Gerrard (2013 versions) can quite easily play together. They are actually quite suited to it.

Verdict: Myth Busted

Read the first of the  Football Mythbusters series here.

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