Crisis over? Or just postponed? As so often with Chelsea it is too early to tell but the way they avoided a potentially calamitous defeat at home to Stoke City on Saturday suggested the repeated refrain that team spirit is buoyant may not be entirely far-fetched. The continued absence from the squad of Didier Drogba, and Luiz Felipe Scolari's intimation that he will not be given funds to replace the stricken Joe Cole, implies not all is well behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge. In a Drogba-less dressing room, however, the mood may be lifting.
If so it appears to be as much to do with the likes of Frank Lampard as Scolari. There is a lot of talk about footballers being role models in society, less about players requiring role models themselves. Yet every club needs an exemplar, and the more successful clubs have several. Lampard has not always been everyone's idea of a role model, but his well-publicised indiscretions are a long time ago and he has got past the period when he appeared to believe he was beyond criticism. Now he has become a man to rely upon. After marking his 400th appearance for the club with a 93rd-minute winner that may prove to be the season's turning point Lampard made clear that was a conscious act.
"I try and work hard for the manager," he said. "I try to do what they say. When you get to 30 you can't put it in every day, but I try. I want to be at the level I am at for as long as possible and I want to show that attitude to young kids. I think a lot of the young players need to see that attitude because a lot of them don't realise what it takes to get to the level where the likes of me and JT [John Terry] have got to.
"Chelsea is a great club, but everything is put on for them now. Top players work hard too behind the scenes. I will try and do that for this club, because I know what it takes to get there." Lampard learned from his father, who played in the top flight at 36, and Gianfranco Zola whose devotion to training was legendary. Now he is hoping his example will rub off on the likes of Franco di Santo and Miroslav Stoch. Both of them, having been controversially preferred to Drogba, came off the bench to contribute to Chelsea's escape. With Michael Mancienne and Gaël Kakuta also among the subs, a lonely-looking Frank Arnesen, high in the West Stand, could finally dream that his once lavishly funded youth acquisition and development system might at last bear fruit. It needs to as Roman Abramovich has cut spending at a bad time as Cole, ruled out for the season following a Saturday morning operation on a ruptured cruciate ligament, joins Michael Essien in the sick room.
Scolari does still have a squad of top-line internationals and some classy young talent, but it is not producing the performances it is capable of. The problems are mental, and not just with Drogba who would appear to be setting the worst example and might as well be sold as ostracised.
Petr Cech, for example, lacks the authority of a couple of seasons ago which, together with Terry's absence after suffering a back injury in the warm-up, contributed to a vulnerability in Chelsea's defence which was badly at fault for Rory Delap's shock opener. Chelsea, driven forward by Lampard, kept going. Stoke defended heroically but were ball-watching as Di Santo laid on Juliano Belletti's equaliser. Finally, following a cross by Stoch, Lampard produced the perfect finish. Crisis over, until the next one.
Goals: Delap (60) 0-1; Belletti (88) 1-1; Lampard (90) 2-1.
Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Bosingwa (Belletti, 77), Carvalho, Alex, A Cole; Mikel (Stoch, 82); Lampard, Ballack; Kalou, Anelka, Malouda (Di Santo, 59). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ivanovic, Mancienne, Kakuta.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham (Griffin, 33); Delap, Whelan, Amdy Faye (Pugh, 28), Etherington (Kitson, 83); Beattie, Cresswell. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Olofinjana, Lawrence, Sonko.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Booked: Stoke City Amdy Faye, Whelan, Kitson.
Man of the match: Lampard.
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