Taking Another Look At Lampard's Positional Future

A while ago, I penned a piece for Life's A Pitch discussing the positional future of Frank Lampard, taking a look at how the midfielder could seen be making a move backwards down the pitch in order to prolong his usefulness. At the time Andre Villas-Boas wasn't very interested in playing Lampard anywhere but his usual midfield poacher role, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, probably because Lampard and AVB seem like they had a slight* relationship breakdown, and secondly, our preferred formation didn't actually call for a player in a double pivot - we were still welded to 4-3-3.

*by which I mean massive

Now, however, we've changed manager, and we've also changed shape. Di Matteo is a big fan of the 4-2-3-1, which called for an inversion of our midfield triangle in order to create a platform for Mata to move centrally.

This meant that Di Matteo had two choices of where to stick Lampard: either in the hole or in the pivot. Neither were really ideal for Lampard, as he's more or less become perfect at his role in a 4-3-3 and by contrast he didn't really fit into either a double pivot or in the hole. At least, that what was thought.

Initially, Lampard was given a run in behind the striker as an attacking midfielder in the band of three, where by and large it was a failure. Lampard simply lacked the fluidity in his play to connect with his supporting wingers, and his movement was far too static for what was required. Being closer to goal seemed to confuse Lampard, as now he was a lot closer to the opposition defenders and thus had less time to distribute and move into space.

It wasn't for a while but eventually Lampard had an extended run in the double pivot position. It was here Lampard really excelled, and Napoli home in the Champions League really comes to mind. So what was he doing well?

First we need to define what is the double pivot. Simplistically speaking, it's a midfield partnership that takes turns to go forward rather than having a rigid holding midfielder. If you want to get even more simple, it's a midfield partnership.

And this is where the greatest misunderstanding of the double pivot term lies. Many assume that the words double pivot translates to holding midfielders. The reality is that, like formations, double pivots are neutral. It's the players within the system and their roles that ultimately determines the nature of the pivot.

Hence, like formations, we have great variety in double pivots. A good example was last year's World Cup final between Netherlands vs Spain, who both played 4-2-3-1. However, the Netherlands played Nigel De Jong and Mark van Bommel in their pivot while Spain played Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonson in midfield. That approximated to the Netherlands pivot being quite defensive and determined to bludgeon anything in their path. In stark contrast was the Spain pivot, which gracefully tried to retain the ball at all costs and played fairly high up the field. So if you can't understand the variance of double pivots now, then this video should visually get you up to speed.

So what double pivot did Lampard play in? Again contrary to common belief, Di Matteo's double pivot didn't actually mean he was playing two holding midfielders. As Graham said in some comment section a while ago, the double pivot was essentially playing the same role as the central midfielders would in a 4-4-2.

As we know, Lampard played in a 4-4-2 last year when Ancelotti was trying to find the best way to fit Torres into the side, and he was actually pretty good at it. So it came as no surprise to me when Lampard was calm and assured in possession when he was deployed in the pivot by Di Matteo. As you can see from the various chalkboards below, where his passing statistics are shown for a sample drawn from the games he has played on the left side of a pivot (interestingly, in all three of these games, Lampard averaged 87% pass accuracy, compared to 85% for the season).

Lampard_passing_medium

While not full evidence (and I'm slightly worried about the validity of these statistics given Graham's current Opta rampage), these go to show the ground that Lampard covers in his new position and the way his game has become more focused around distribution rather than creating.

Obviously this does have a detriment on Lampard's talents, namely his ability to chip in with a hefty amount of goals from midfield. Since Di Matteo's takeover, Lampard has scored four goals, all of which were set pieces: three penalties, and one stunning free kick.

While it's hard to ascertain whether this is a long term thing due to the relative small sample size provided (I can think of five games that Lampard has played in the double pivot, but someone correct me if I'm wrong), but it's certainly some food for thought when assessing Super Frank's positional shift.

Furthermore, Lampard's quite an intelligent footballer, one of the few to boast a GSCE in Latin and an exceptionally high IQ, and having him play deeper is a useful tool for a manager to have out on the pitch - intelligence in midfield is a highly valued attribute (and quite hard to come by, incredibly), so having Lampard playing deep, using that brain of his to orchestrate is a bonus. This was pretty clear across the two legs against Barca: I was really glowing of Lampard after the first leg and even more so after the second, because the midfielder was integral to maintaining our structure and pressing system in midfield. Constantly pressing when it was on, dropping deep when necessary, and assisting those around him with a guiding hand or words of encouragement: it was Lampard the leader like we've not seen him before.

Given the evidence, this can only be a good thing.

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