- Straight Talk by Steve McMahon -
CHELSEA’S unwillingness to offer Frank Lampard a new contract an insult to the player.
A majority of Chelsea fans have been taken aback by owner Roman Abramovich’s decision not to offer legendary midfielder Frank Lampard a contract extension, with the Englishman almost certain to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season.
Most would point to how often he has gotten his name on the scoresheet in recent games as justification for why Lampard should be given a new deal, but the 34-year old contributes so much more than that. He is viewed by fans and team-mates alike as a leader of the team, a player one can count on to dig deep and battle against the odds for the club’s causes.
How any side would be willing to allow someone as pivotal as Lampard to leave while he can still give so much is beyond me. Should the club do a turnaround now and give in to the wishes of the fans, it would still be viewed as a slight to the former West Ham man that a team he has served so loyally for the best part of his career chose to turn their back on him.
The anguish of potentially losing one of the most influential figures at the club can be alleviated by better performances on the pitch, but Chelsea have struggled for consistency in front of their home fans, a shortcoming that has only served to stoke the anger and frustration directed at Abramovich and his interim manager Rafael Benitez.
The Blues players can help to thaw this mounting wall of ice between the supporters and club management by standing up and being counted on the pitch.
Poor showings have already cost them a place in the Champions League knockout round and a chance of lifting the Club World Cup, on top of forcing the squad into another FA Cup replay with Swansea.
Although I do not expect Benitez to be offered the job on a permanent basis at the end of the season, the players should rally behind him, if only to improve their results and get the supporters back on their side. Fans who remain loyal to Chelsea will turn out in full force for the London derby against Arsenal this weekend.
Gunners manager Arsene Wenger will be hoping that calling out his team on their timid display against Manchester City last Sunday will wake his players up in time for the clash, but I believe Arsenal are plagued by more than just a lack of steel.
Supporters could point to the numerical disadvantage as a reason for the Gunners’ struggles against Roberto Mancini’s squad, though there was no doubt in my mind that City would still have emerged on top even if the playing field was level.
Arsenal play entertaining football, but there is hardly anything to them beyond that, as evidenced by key players like Theo Walcott becoming anonymous when the chips are down.
Lacking in resilience and leadership on the pitch, Wenger’s men are in danger of becoming nothing more than a nice team to watch.
The other London side in action on Sunday are Tottenham, who welcome Manchester United to White Hart Lane. I expect Andre Villas-Boas’ squad to go into the match in good spirits, their goalless draw against QPR notwithstanding.
Having won the reverse fixture, Spurs will most definitely take the game to the Red Devils and teams who have done so against Alex Ferguson’s squad have typically succeeded in causing them problems.
With both managers expected to line up their teams to score goals, a plethora of attacking stars will be on show in that fixture, from the United strike force of Robin van Persie and very likely Wayne Rooney to pacy Tottenham wingers Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon. As such, the result may be decided by defensive lapses, and I think the Red Devils will crack.
The United defence have toiled unsuccessfully when faced with speedy attackers and they could prove to be the weak link once more for Ferguson when faced with the prospect of dealing with Bale, Lennon and Jermain Defoe.
Former Liverpool and England International Steve McMahon is a football expert with ESPN. Catch him on ‘The Verdict’ at 8pm and on ESPN’s coverage of the Barclays Premier League.
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