By Noah TanFollow @@Noah_Tan
For slightly over a decade since he joined Chelsea from West Ham, Lampard has been one of the first names on the Blues' teamsheet - a constant presence during the highs and lows the club have gone through.
However, the 34-year-old has in recent times earned himself a fair share of detractors calling for his departure.
The first signs of trouble began last season when then Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas tried to freeze Lampard out of the squad. The Portuguese's failure to do so was partly because of the player power culture prevalent inside the dressing room at the time, and partly because there was no one of similar quality in the Chelsea ranks to replace the England international.
However, the additions to the Chelsea squad under former manager Roberto Di Matteo over the summer did not bode well for Lampard's future at the club; Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin are usually used as attacking midfielders, while Ramires and John Obi Mikel have already been preferred to Lampard in the current Chelsea first team set-up.
While current interim Blues manager Rafael Benitez may have come out to categorically state that "Lampard has a future at Chelsea", it sounds a hollow comment given how the former West Ham starlet has been on the fringes of the squad in recent times; it is also no secret that the club was more than willing to sell the England international to MLS side LA Galaxy during the summer.
Far from being unsettled by such intense speculation, Lampard has remained professional throughout and efficiently gone about his business, impressing in his limited appearances for the club.
Never was that more apparent when the Blues took on Everton on Sunday as the midfielder produced a match-winning display against the Toffees, scoring a well-taken brace to secure a crucial three points for his team as they ran out 2-1 winners at Goodison Park.
Still, doubts persist over whether the former PFA Fans' Player of the Year can remain relevant in a new-look, youthful Chelsea side and if Chelsea should continue to keep a player unused to sitting on the bench.
What Lampard has to offer
In his prime, Lampard offered an energetic presence in the middle of the pitch for the Blues as an all action box-to-box midfielder, providing defensive cover when needed.
But it is in attack where the 34-year-old really flourished; an uncanny knack of timing his runs into the penalty area to perfection has seen him become the highest scoring midfielder in the league to date. He is now just one goal short of Kerry Dixon, who is the club's second all-time leading scorer with 193.
Although never as prolific a passer as the more technically creative midfielders in the mould of Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez, Lampard remains capable of providing an assist and creating goalscoring chances for his teammates.
Nevertheless, he is in the twilight of his career and is no longer as sprightly in midfield. The energy and strength in his legs has waned, he is no longer able to run from one end of the pitch to the other for the full 90 minutes and is highly unlikely to win a physical battle against the likes of Yaya Toure or Marouane Fellaini. Compared to the speedier and fitter Hazard, Oscar or even Ramires, Lampard looks lethargic at times. It is not unreasonable to think that his time as the fulcrum of Chelsea's attacks has come to an end.
Yet, to write off Lampard's value to the team based solely on his physical attributes would be short-sighted. The veteran midfielder is a senior and well-respected figure at the club and wields immeasurable influence in the Chelsea dressing room. Unlike his long-time teammate and club captain John Terry, he has not given the rabid English tabloids much to splash on their front pages.
What Lampard really brings to the team now is a mix of intangible qualities. His experience, leadership (both on and off the pitch) and professionalism continues to serve as an inspirational guide to all at Stamford Bridge.
How can Lampard fit into Chelsea now?
With the current crop of technical players in Chelsea ranks, the Blues' style of play has changed significantly. Where Chelsea teams of the past used Didier Drogba's physicality to great effect with long direct balls from deep, the current batch prefers to keep the ball on the ground and attack on the break, utilising their pace and skill to break retreating defences.
The speed which Chelsea play their game has thus increased tremendously, with Benitez attempting to utilise a system which best suits his flair players as well as his current chief striker Fernando Torres. This style of play contrasts sharply with Lampard's more thoughtful, patient approach to the game, where he tries to dictate possession - waiting for the right opportunity to release the ball.
On paper at least, Lampard will not be able to fit into this new Chelsea attack, his heroics against Everton notwithstanding. Ramires has taken over his mantle as the box-to-box midfielder, Mata is doing a fantastic job as a playmaker, Hazard has lit up Stamford Bridge with some sterling displays while Oscar has shown that he is more than able to play just behind the striker.
While there does not seem to be a place for Lampard in attack, there is a gaping hole in the Chelsea defensive set up. As a defensive midfielder, John Obi Mikel is nothing more than average at best and many, including myself, still fail to see the qualities he brings to the side.
The Nigerian's tackling leaves a lot to be desired and the 25-year-old is prone to conceding silly fouls in dangerous positions. His lack of tactical awareness and abysmal judgement, amongst other deficiencies, is often covered up by the excellent Chelsea defence which has spared Mikel's blushes on more than a few occasions.
On the other hand, Lampard's reading of the game, honed from all his years of experience, will stand him in good stead should he be used as a shield for the defence, allowing him to intercept and cut out the danger before it fully materialises. Unlike Mikel, the England international will also be able to better recycle possession and can be the link from deep between the defence and attack, a role very much like the one which Mikel Arteta plays for Arsenal.
In addition, having a senior figure to guide the younger, more impulsive players on the pitch will only aid the team, especially in tighter games where more cunning is needed in order to eke out the victory or avoid a loss. Knowing when and how to close the game out while holding to a slender one goal lead for example, is an important but undervalued tactic which Lampard is not unfamiliar with, having used it often to great effect in the past.
End of the Blues road for Lampard
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Benitez will start selecting Lampard over Mikel in midfield on a regular basis.
One cannot expect Lampard to be happy with his bit-part role in the team as the season progresses, especially with lucrative offers from teams in America, Australia and China.
Last year, Lampard's former Chelsea teammate Michael Ballack announced his retirement from football at the age of 36 and one can expect Lampard too to hang up his boots for good sooner rather than later and for him to get a second chance at making his mark for Chelsea, like that of Manchester United's talismanic Paul Scholes, is unlikely.
Although this will in all likelihood be his final season with the Blues, there is no doubt whatsoever that Lampard will remain professional throughout his remaining time at the club and one can still expect him to make vital contributions, albeit on a less consistent basis, both on and off the pitch to aid Chelsea's quest for honours this season.