Frank Lampard: Still A Valuable Asset
Will Frank Lampard have an impact at his new club? Does the Chelsea great still have something to offer? Today on the blog Mark Taylor takes a look at the stats and says yes.
When Roman Abramovich realised his nine year quest to bring the premier European club trophy back to Stamford Bridge, many of the leading players in the triumph could have been forgiven for thinking that they would earn at least another season to bask and reflect on their achievement. However, Didier Drogba, as was widely speculated prior to the final in Munich, departed in the close season and he was soon followed in more controversial circumstances by winning manager Roberto Di Matteo.
As many had previously discovered, failure is rarely tolerated under the present Chelsea regime and also the bar is constantly being raised even during the warm afterglow of success and an autumn spent spinning their wheels in both the league and Champions League proved unacceptable to the owner.
The abortive cleansing of the old guard, attempted under Villas-Boas' short tenure appears to be back on the agenda during Benitez's stewardship and despite conflicting messages from both inside and outside the Chelsea camp, it now appears that Frank Lampard will be the latest constant from the Abramovich era to be ushered gently out of the door.
Lampard made his Chelsea debut as a 23 year old in their 2001-02 campaign, playing alongside such heady individuals as Zola, Hasselbaink, Desailly and another stalwart living on borrowed time in John Terry. It’s testament to Lampard’s longevity as measured by both talent and fitness that he has continued as an almost automatic selection ever since. It is rare that a player can continue to play at such a consistently high level, in such a demanding position as midfield without seeing either a drop off in production or appearances or usually, both.
Sir Alex Ferguson has long been an admirer of Lampard, citing his disciplined approach to the game, but especially his magnificent scoring record from the middle of the park. Now 34, you would expect that Lampard’s best years are behind him. Notwithstanding his scoring record since his debut for the Blues over eleven years ago, which has seen him maintain a level of scoring consistency that is probably unique within the EPL.
Comparing scoring records is a notoriously difficult task. Quantity of opportunity is an obvious problem and an ever present can accumulate larger overall goal totals compared to a more talented striker who, through non selection or injury may have played many fewer matches.
Goals scored per minute played can partly account for this aspect of scoring, but a rather less obvious problem then arises. General levels of team scoring increases as the match progress, players become tired and risks are more readily taken, so a player who accrues more late game minutes will find himself playing in the more goal rich environment than one who is regularly substituted for another day.
Similarly, the quality of a player’s team mates will also impact on his scoring record. If a player is surrounded by good players it is likely that more scoring opportunities will be created, but also there will be more talented players around him who are eager and able to take advantage of such opportunities.
By looking at the proportion of team goals an individual scores whilst he is on the pitch much of these problems are eliminated. This approach also enables us to see how important a player may be to his side measured purely by the number of goals he scores. A great scorer playing for a poor side will tend to grab the lion’s share of the goals.
Imagine a Premiership striker guesting for a Sunday League side. They would score many more goals than usual, but the vast majority would be netted by their new recruit. The benchmark figure for a talented scorer playing for a side of Chelsea’s overall quality is that he would expect to score between 15 to 20% of their goals…and he’d usually be exclusively a striker.
Lampard’s Scoring Record As a Proportion Of Total Chelsea Goals
|Season||% of Goals Scored Whilst On The Pitch|
Very little work has been done on the ageing patterns for goal scorers, but based on other sports, the mid to late twenties is likely to see a typical striker at his peak. Some players do appear to carry their ability past this peak, but the reason why 30+ year old strikers stand out from the crowd is because so many of their particular vintage are no longer playing at any level.
Lampard’s first two seasons at Chelsea saw him contribute his smallest proportion of Chelsea’s goals whilst he was on the pitch, but still record impressive levels for a midfielder. Thereafter, he has recorded numbers that would be well regarded had they been scored by a primary striker. His output has even remained on a very gradual upward curve with a standout year in 2007-08 when he was 29, although that year was also curtailed by injury and smaller sample sizes can often lead to abnormally high or low results.
Overall the numbers demonstrate the huge contribution made by Lampard to Chelsea’s goal scoring, even if we remove his frequently successful penalty kicks. More importantly for any potential buyer, Lampard shows little sign of an immediate decline in his scoring ability, even as he moves well into his 30's.
Success On Goal
We can further examine Lampard, the goalscorer by examining the fate of his recent attempts at goal in the Premiership compared to the success expected from an average player. The model estimates the likely outcome of a goal attempt based on shooting position and naturally will be over represented by attackers and midfield players.
Lampard’s Shooting Efficiency Compared to an Average Player
|Season||Predicted Shots On Target||Actual Shots On Target||Predicted Number Of Goals||Actual Number Of Goals|
Once again Lampard's ability shows little sign of decline. He has gained a well deserved reputation for shooting from distance. His average attempt over the last three seasons has seen him shoot from just inside the box and 4 yards wide of either post, but both his accuracy and goal production has been above average over those three seasons.
Brian Clough always sought to unload players before their decline was evident, partly to command a high transfer fee. Chelsea has no such financial concerns, but they too appear to be willing to offload a player who is still playing at a high level.
The managerial positions are still undecided and they have half a season to bed in new recruits for a renewed assault on Europe. Lampard is obviously not part of those long term plans. His injury plagued 2007-08 year should be also viewed in light of his absence from England’s Euro campaign and even the best teams should seek to avoid keeping players who may become increasingly injury prone.
However, although age will eventually catch up with Chelsea’s soon to be former number eight, his truly amazing scoring feats appear to indicate that he should prove to be a valuable asset for any team, at every level, for at least a couple more years.
The Odds: Skybet has Manchester United the favourite to claim Lampard's services at odds of 3.50 while any MLS club is 4.00.
Read more of Mark's work on his The Power Of Goals blog
And follow Mark of Twitter: @MarkTaylor0