When it comes to picking your fantasy football team at this time of year, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are usually no brainers, guaranteed to chalk up about 50 games a season and double figures in terms of goal scoring. Factor in assists and man of the match points, and both are likely to outscore the majority of strikers from midfield. Automatic choices in recent years, but this year you might think twice.
With 1440 senior games for club and country between them and both the wrong side of 30, signs of wear and tear are starting to restrict their buccaneering box-to-box performances and limit their number of appearances. Returning from a dismal World Cup campaign, both suffered indifferent seasons hampered by injury and upheaval at their respective clubs. Lampard missed most of the first four months of last season with hernia and abductor muscle problems, returning in mid-December and still managing to chalk up a very respectable 13 goals in 32 appearances, although 19 games and 14 goals less than the previous term.
Lampard has been fortunate that this was the first significant injury that he has experienced in his career. The rehabilitation appeared to take longer than anyone anticipated and the long term ramifications of this damage will only become apparent over time. This season will go a long way towards revealing whether a decline in performance and further niggling injuries are behind him or here to stay.
Chelsea’s collective confidence and performances improved with Lampard’s return to the side, as they mounted a belated yet ultimately unsuccessful title challenge. A favourite of Carlo Ancelotti, Lampard has yet another manager to win over in Andres Villas-Boas, although he will be well aware of Lampard’s influence and abilities from his previous spell at the club as part of Jose Mourinho’s scouting network.
Gerrard’s season was blighted by a hamstring injury picked up on international duty and more recently a groin problem that required surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation, and is likely to rule him out for the duration of Liverpool’s pre-season preparations. Gerrard is expected to return in time for the start of the season but his levels of fitness will be behind that of his midfield contemporaries, of which there are many. Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stuart Downing have been added to the likes of Raul Meireles, Lucas, Joe Cole, Maxi Rodriguez and the returning Alberto Aquilani. Competition will be fierce and Gerrard’s place is by no means guaranteed.
Recently, both Lampard and Gerrard have felt the need to publicly declare their intention to play at the highest level for many more years, possibly sensing that their stock is starting to diminish. It is not yet clear how Kenny Dalglish is planning to accommodate an abundance of midfield talent but it appears likely that Gerrard will be utilised in a more conservative role in future. Lampard is unlikely to be able to continue covering so much ground and an evolution of his role also seems inevitable. With the European Championship upcoming, these midfield titans will have to roll back the years if they are to secure a starting berth next summer.