No place for Lampard in Villas-Boas' Chelsea revolution
Frank Lampard is facing a harsh truth. He is no longer the player who controls the ebb and flow of the game when Chelsea take the field. No longer is he one of the first names on the Chelsea team sheet.
After 10 years during which he has helped win three league titles and three FA cups, made 500 appearances in the famous blue shirt and scored 177 goals, including one in a Champions League final, Lampard appears surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge.
Last weekend his frustration was plain to see as he was substituted after an hour of Chelsea's 3-0 victory against Newcastle.
He played no part in Chelsea's 3-0 win against Valencia in the Champions League in midweek.
For someone who has been the bedrock of the club for a decade the realisation that he is no longer the main man will have come as a jolt.
Yet the marginalisation of Lampard is the first positive sign that manager Andre Villas-Boas has the clout and the nous to take on a radical rejuvenation of Chelsea.
None of which is to say that Lampard is finished. At 33 and a player who has looked after himself physically he may still have useful years to give Chelsea. From the bench and as a key member when the squad is rotated. Villas-Boas has hinted as much.
He may play a part in Chelsea's Premier League encounter against Manchester City on Monday. Yet, even if he does, the baton has been torn from his grasp and handed to men with younger minds and fresher legs.
Men such as Spain's Juan Mata, who has scored three goals and been credited with seven assists in the Premier League this season.
Mostly, though, by Brazilian Ramires, who has taken time to settle at Stamford Bridge but whose most recent performances have seen him given the free attacking midfield role which once was Lampard's domain.
Ramires is not your typical Brazilian footballer. He is not all fancy flicks. He has pace and power. He gets his foot in. He seeks the dirty work in midfield but also has the verve to surge into the opponent's penalty box. In short, he brings a more urgent tempo to a Chelsea side which for too long, under Lampard and John Obi Mikel, has swayed to a pedestrian beat in midfield.
With Didier Drogba having scored four goals in four games, Chelsea at last look as if they are running into some consistent form which makes the encounter against City so compelling.
Lose and Chelsea would fall 13 points behind the Premier League leaders, which effectively would render their title aspirations over before Christmas. Win and seven points becomes a bridgeable gap.
The stakes are high and so too is Chelsea's back line which could be a problem if it donates space against a City attack which has scored 48 goals in 14 league games this season, including a 6-1 destruction of Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The smart money is on a City victory.
In contrast to Chelsea, City have a rock-solid defensive partnership in Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott, a narrow midfield which is difficult to penetrate and an attacking play-maker in David Silva who is an early candidate for footballer of the year.
Silva is 25, fast, tricky, a wonderful passer who makes goals and scores goals. A player with a vibrant future.
Ths same cannot be said for Lampard.