Thanks to Andre Villas-Boas' entirely sensible of giving his older players time off between matches, Frank Lampard has been the subject of many a story over the past few days. The midfielder didn't start against Fulham in the Carling Cup. He only lasted a half at Manchester United. He was (shock! horror!) an unused substitute against Swansea City, and was accused of throwing a tantrum and leaving the bench once Josh McEachran was called into the game as Villas-Boas' third and final change.
I think anyone familiar with Lampard at all found that story rather implausible, and he's confirmed that himself, acting in perfectly professional fashion while myopic journalists are busy wetting themselves for some controversy. Not even Fernando Torres' red card (or, more pertinently, Carlos Tevez's very real issues at Manchester City) have kept the media off Lampard's back, and now that the England midfielder's been reinstated to the side, scoring a hat-trick today, the story is about how he wanted to prove his doubters wrong.
That's stupid. Here's the story: Frank Lampard is still a very good player and can and will continue to contribute to Chelsea despite his relatively advanced age.
The first two matches of the season aside, Lampard has been excellent. He hasn't been scoring as many goals, but he's taking on a more mature role as a deeper-lying midfielder, using his experience to help command games and letting the likes of Torres and Juan Mata try to open the opposition up. That's not the mark of a player in terminal decline; it's showing that he's adapting to the needs of the team. Should he be playing all the time? Of course not - the man is 33 year old, after all - but he's still a very worthy player to have on the roster.
Now that Lampard has shown he can adapt to the new Chelsea, he's also demonstrated that he's a very potent force in the Blues' old configuration. It's no secret that Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard have historically formed one of the most dangerous attacking axes in the Premier League, and the old guard was on display here. Drogba drags defenders away (I think accusations of Drogba having a poor game, incidentally, are probably off the mark - his off-ball movement was excellent), Lampard comes in behind and mops up. Twice that old partnership was displayed, with beautiful team efforts that were only possible thanks to the holes Drogba opened up.
Obviously, when you score a hat-trick, people tend to look more favourably on your performances. Lampard's known for his goalscoring, and therefore goals will be how he's measured. That's great, to a point, but it's worth taking a deeper look at the vice captain. The story here is that he's a versatile midfielder who can and will do whatever the manager asks of him. If he needs to play deep for the good of the team, he's happy to. If he needs to be the main goal threat, he can still do it as well. The only thing he can't do is play week in, week out like he's used to. That's no crime, and Chelsea are taking steps to mitigate that problem.
The idea that those steps might constitute a crisis of faith in the midfielder is laughable, as is the idea that Lampard - who now has an excellent shot of ending his career as the club's all-time highest scorer - somehow needed to prove himself again. He's fine. Chelsea are fine. If that's true, it's pretty clear where the problem actually lies.