Lampard on the spot over Blues' penalty privilege

Michael Ballack's arrival and a couple of misses will not stop the Chelsea midfielder from taking penalties for club and country, writes Sam Wallace
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The Independent Football

Just who decided that Frank Lampard should be retired as the penalty king of Stamford Bridge was forgotten, on Tuesday night, amid one of Jose Mourinho's tirades against the sinister forces he believes are at work against Chelsea. But despite Michael Ballack's emphatic spot-kick against Werder Bremen, Lampard said that he still expects to take penalties for Chelsea and England.

A routine win over lacklustre German Champions' League opposition and a minor confusion over who should take Chelsea's 67th minute penalty but plenty of intrigue. Earlier in the week Mourinho had insisted that Lampard was still his penalty taker despite missing against Charlton Athletic on Saturday. By Tuesday night he had decided that if the next penalty was "crucial" to a match it would require a new man to take it.

"I will take more penalties for Chelsea - and for England too, I hope" said Lampard shortly after the match on Tuesday night. So had he been relieved of duties and was it his decision? "We did speak about it [penalties] before the game and decided it was the right time for him [Ballack] to take one. I will take them in the future but there is nothing wrong, I don't think, with mixing it up. That gives us an advantage that the opponents don't know who our penalty talker is going to be."

Smashing the ball into the top left hand corner of Andreas Reinke's net, Ballack could hardly have put together a more compelling case for keeping the job. Mourinho's explanation of the criteria for Lampard handing over responsibility - "if the next penalty is crucial to the game" - also begs for clarification. When is a penalty not crucial to Chelsea?

Claude Makelele scored his one goal from the club with his penalty rebound against Charlton in May 2005 - but Lampard is unlikely to settle for the walk-on parts. He has scored 12 of his 71 Chelsea goals from the penalty spot and his identity as the greatest goal-scoring midfielder of his generation needs the supplement that penalties provide.

There would be no debate without the context of Lampard's World Cup finals' performances and his missed penalty against Portugal that still casts a shadow. When Mourinho ranted about the agenda of the English press against his midfielder he was right in one sense - so much was expected of Lampard for so long that at some point it was inevitable he might come unstuck.

"I missed a penalty the other day and Michael was yet to score so we thought it might be the right time to let him take it," Lampard said. "He finished it very well. It's not about who takes the penalties, it's who scores them. I think there is a good chance for mixing it around with the penalty taking. I did miss three days earlier so I think it was the ideal moment for Michael to take one and get his first goal.

"I should have had a penalty for a foul on me and I don't know if I'd have taken that one. I missed one against Charlton and fortunately it didn't cost us in terms of a result. This was an important one and Michael did well. In the future we'll see."

Acknowledging that "the Germans are good at them, as we know" it did not seem that Lampard is convinced he will be taking penalties again. Ballack's pre-eminence from the spot was also symbolic of his role on the pitch with Lampard pushed to the left to accommodate him. Mourinho found room for four central midfielders on Tuesday, in future you have to doubt he will be quite so generous.

Squeezed with England - Steven Gerrard's right wing role often becomes more free-ranging as the match goes on - and cramped by Ballack with Chelsea, Lampard has found himself under pressure that his performances over the last two seasons have by no means deserved. In the end it may come down to a straight choice for the Chelsea manager between his two famous midfielders.

"We have to retain the Premiership but it is getting to the stage where we have to win the Champions' League," John Terry said. "We can't keep saying 'next year will be our time'. We've got the experience and we've got the players." And judging by the Chelsea players' accounts of their holidays in the matchday programme they are all refreshed. Arjen Robben's summer? Spent "diving" in Crete and the Maldives.