The Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard conundrum has troubled managers of the national team for near enough a decade. Nobody has been able to fit the two best English midfielders of their generation into a consistently functional and effective partnership, the generally held conception being that they are too similar and thus incompatible as a pairing. Such has been their quality though, that both have featured for England consistently over the years and tonight against Ukraine, Lampard is set to join Gerrard amongst the few players to have surpassed 100 caps for the Three Lions.
Only seven have previously reached the milestone and it will be a proud day for the Chelsea man, but given the apparent incompatibility of the duo, there is an argument that he (or, of course, Gerrard) should not have reached such highs. And Lampard's place in the squad is now even more questionable, with the midfielder having turned 35 years of age in June. Only a couple of months earlier he was facing the end of his Chelsea career, with talk building that he wouldn't be offered a contract extension beyond the end of last season. But then he hit back with a string of fine performances that showed the club's hierarchy his worth.
He played a prominent role in the run-in to Chelsea's campaign, including captaining the side to Europa League glory in May. His career is showing no signs of abating and he will, quite rightly, remain an England player at least until after the World Cup. Providing England make it there, he and Gerrard will - in all likelihood - continue to play together in central midfield, and after 10 years of trying, they might just be getting used to each other and developing into something that works.
The 4-0 win over Moldova on Friday didn't require much in the way of defending on England's part, so alongside Jack Wilshere, Lampard and Gerrard were relatively untroubled without the ball. Of the two, Lampard was the more attacking - only Danny Welbeck (7) had more shots than him (4), while Gerrard made the most tackles for England (5), but Gerrard hardly held back from attacking, making 10 key passes and scoring a goal. The problem against better teams, however, is that both midfielders are such fantastic additions to attacking moves that it is wasteful to sacrifice such threat from either to be able to play them both simultaneously.
Few will need reminding of Lampard's attacking pedigree. Since the starts of the 2009/10 season, only Robin van Persie (85) and Wayne Rooney (76) have scored more Premier League goals than the Chelsea midfielder (59), while he is also in the top 15 for assists in the same time (23). Only 7 players have had more shots than him (370) and only 3 players have created more chances (256). Over the past 5 seasons, few have been better than Lampard, but while that shouldn't necessarily be enough to guarantee him an international call up today, his form has continued into the new season.
Both he and Gerrard have, with age, had to adapt their game so as to pick and choose when they join attacks, Lampard perfecting his late runs into the box and thus maintaining a goal threat despite playing in a deeper role. His delivery from set-pieces is another asset; he has a goal and an assist in the Premier League from free-kicks already this season, and that is something England certainly could do with. Considering the lack of fluidity and invention to their attacks under Roy Hodgson, set-pieces are, realistically, going to continue to be important. No team scored more headed goals at Euro 2012 than Hodgson's men (3), and their only goal in two games against France and Italy - the more difficult of their opponents - was a Joleon Lescott header from a Gerrard free-kick.
Lampard has made himself more helpful in a defensive sense in recent years. Although this season is only a few games old, it is still noteworthy that he has averaged more tackles per game (2.3) than in any other campaign for which WhoScored have data (since 2009/10), and before that he was an even more attack-minded player. This, furthermore, while directly contributing to (scoring or assisting) 50% of Chelsea's Premier League goals this term is seriously impressive.
Playing alongside Ramires, who has been playing a more disciplined, defensive role himself Lampard has to cover when the Brazilian goes on his increasingly rare forward forays, and maybe that could be the case for England alongside Gerrard. The Liverpool captain is a scorer of great goals these days rather than a great scorer of goals; his fantastic swerving effort against Moldova was his first for his country in three years, while Lampard already had 3 for England this year alone.
Everybody knows of England's woes in penalty shootout - they have won only 1 of 7 in their history - and Lampard offers a level head from the spot. He might have missed in a shootout against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, but since the start of the 2009/10 season, he has scored at least 8 more penalties (22) than any other player in the Premier League.
Jack Wilshere is only at the start of his career, and will be at the heart of England's midfield for years to come. Frank Lampard, meanwhile, is having to adapt to be able to remain there, and he could probably teach Wilshere a thing or two about that, with Wilshere facing his own problems fitting into Arsenal's midfield at present. A maturing Lampard is coming into his own with age, and he is highly likely to remain a key player for the national team in their key qualifiers, and then - all things well and good against Ukraine - for one last shot at the World Cup in Brazil next year.