As he accepted the man of the match award for his two goals at Goodison Park on Sunday, Frank Lampard responded to a question about his immediate future by saying that he hoped the new year would find him playing for a winning team. He did not specify Chelsea.
With his present deal due to expire next summer, New Year's Day marks the day on which Lampard becomes free to sign a pre-contractual agreement with a club outside England. There will be no shortage of suitors, among them his former manager Carlo Ancelotti, now with vast funds available from the Qatari owners of Paris Saint-Germain.
Lampard captained the side in the absence of the injured John Terry, as he did in Munich last May when, with Terry suspended, Chelsea won the European Cup. If it is hard to imagine the club parting with a player who has given them so much over 11 and a half seasons, it is also necessary to look at his transfer value, which might be considerable during the coming transfer window but will dwindle to zero when he becomes a free agent in six months' time.
"Sign him up," the travelling fans chanted after he had equalised three minutes before half-time and nudged Chelsea into the lead with just under half an hour to play. But with Uefa's financial fair play demands looming, Chelsea's money men might see this as an opportunity to adjust the balance in their favour by putting a few million in the bank while getting a big salary off the payroll and making more space for the younger men deemed to represent the club's future. But Lampard's commitment to the cause would be missed, as would the enormous experience and footballing wisdom of a man whose relevance on the pitch appears to be barely diminished.
Paris Saint-Germain will surely be competing in the Champions League again next year, whether or not Ancelotti is still in charge, and Paris might suit Lampard, who has always enjoyed dividing his time between the sort of Surrey mansion preferred by his team-mates, close to the club's training ground, and a house in the heart of Chelsea. Another congenial location might be Los Angeles, where he would make a perfect replacement for David Beckham at the Home Depot Center, although after a display like Sunday's he may feel there is no need to settle for a drop into a less competitive league just yet, and that a decision based mainly on lifestyle considerations can be left to the future.
The goals against Everton – his 193rd and 194th for the club in all competitions since his arrival from West Ham in 2001 – offered a reminder of the years in which he was so remarkably prolific for Chelsea, a provider of 20-plus goals per season in five consecutive campaigns between 2005-06 and 2009-10.
This was only Lampard's sixth league start for Chelsea this season and his 11th league appearance in all. At times it has seemed that there would no longer be a place for him in a midfield populated by younger men such as Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Ramires and John Obi Mikel. Against Everton, with David Luiz against stepping out of the back four into a role at the base of the midfield, and with Mikel injured, Lampard began the match in a semi-withdrawn position, although not as deep as David Luiz, who was stationed just in front of the two centre-backs.
Lampard had not been much in evidence before he struck the first of his decisive blows. Hazard's corner from the left led to Fernando Torres retrieving the ball on the right and feeding Ramires, whose improvised cross was met at the far post by Lampard's firm header. Half an hour later a neat passage of interplay between Torres and Mata set up a cross from Hazard and a shot from Mata that rebounded to Lampard, who nudged it home.
These were not the sort of the goals with which he made his name, the kind in which he would make a late and unnoticed arrival on the edge of the penalty area before unleashing a drive of power and accuracy. But these opportunistic strikes certainly showed a undiminished instinct for arriving in the right place at the right time.
In terms of building play around the edge of the Everton area, however, the game's most eye-catching contribution was made by Torres. The Spaniard failed to score on this occasion – and fluffed a couple of opportunities – but showed improvement in precision and incisiveness as he linked with his colleagues to make chances for others.
Everton made a terrific contribution to an absorbing and entertaining contest, particularly in the first half, when Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar looked like Goodison's own Xavi and Iniesta. But overall David Moyes's players could not quite match the individual quality in which Roman Abramovich has made such a huge investment, or the undimmed predatory instincts of a veteran who stole their thunder and sealed their fate.
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image: © Ben Sutherland