Lampard steps up as Chelsea reach Champions League semi-final

Chelsea defeated Benfica 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening to seal the Champions League tie 3-1 on aggregate and book a meeting with holders Barcelona in the semi-finals of the competition. Integral to Chelsea’s progression to the next round was midfielder Frank Lampard, who netted a first-half penalty that calmed the Blues’ nerves.

Lampard’s successful spot-kick doubled Chelsea’s advantage, following up Salomon Kalou’s goal in Lisbon in the first-leg. It was Lampard’s 14th goal of the season, one better than the total he achieved for Chelsea in the last campaign with still around a month’s worth of football to play. For a player who has been at various times in the last 12 months or so written off, as this Daily Mirror report shows, and was dropped to the bench under the previous Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, to better his own individual scoring record this season to last is no mean feat.

The penalty Lampard converted was his second successful attempt from 12 yards in as many Champions League games, having scored a crucial effort against Napoli in the last round. That goal levelled the scores after Napoli had inched ahead on aggregate, and, much like the strike against Benfica, came at a vital time to keep Chelsea’s Champions League challenge on track. Lampard did not score in his four appearances between the two Champions League goals, sitting out the FA Cup tie with Leicester City, but re-discovered his goal scoring form when the stakes were at their highest.

Lampard’s unrest during the tenure of Villas-Boas has been well documented, including by the BBC, but under Roberto Di Matteo Lampard is one of the clearest examples of the effect of the interim manager. Earlier in the season, Lampard’s place in the side was constantly in question, and the sideshow that developed when the England international was left on the substitutes bench for an extended run, harmed not only the player but the club as well. Whatever the truth behind the claims of player power, as reported by the BBC, Lampard himself, according to the Daily Telegraph, has said the approach of Di Matteo is having a more positive effect than that of his predecessor. Chelsea have now won seven of the nine games in which Di Matteo has been in charge, with Lampard featuring in five of the victories and two other fixtures, a defeat to Manchester City and a draw with Tottenham Hotspur.

Chelsea now have a minimum of 10 games remaining in their season – seven Premier League encounters, a Champions League double-header with Barcelona and the FA Cup semi-final with Spurs. That number could rise to 12 with the addition of a possible double final appearance in the Champions League and FA Cup, and Lampard’s recent predilection for scoring in important cup matches, if carried on through the last weeks of the season, could send Chelsea to Wembley and the Allianz Arena. Both stadiums would be a far cry from the substitutes bench where Lampard spent part of the season’s early going.

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