Lampard can reinvent himself at Chelsea
After seeming to have his name written in indelible ink on the Chelsea teamsheet for the past decade, Frank Lampard now finds his place in the side in doubt.
Taken off at half-time against Manchester United, left out against Swansea and with only one goal - a penalty at that - to show for his efforts so far this season, the midfielder no longer appears such a key player at Stamford Bridge.
His future at international level is similarly insecure, after he was demoted to the bench against Bulgaria at the start of the month - the first time in four years that he had not started a competitive match for his country when available.
So, at 33, is he merely a squad player at Chelsea, with £23.5m summer signing Juan Mata now the leading light in midfield?
There's no questioning the contribution Lampard has made to Chelsea since joining from West Ham. Photo: Getty
The very suggestion rankles with Claudio Ranieri, the man responsible for bringing Lampard to Chelsea in June 2001.
"Trust me, Lampard is still a fantastic player," the Italian, who took over as Inter Milan manager last week, told me.
"Maybe at the moment he is not playing as well as he can, but he is still a big part of Chelsea's future.
"His passing, his shooting, his leadership and his intelligence - they all make him a world-class midfielder."
Ranieri persuaded Chelsea to pay West Ham £11m for Lampard 10 years ago. The fee was ridiculed by many at the time, but has proven an absolute steal, with the midfielder going on to score 116 league goals for the club during the most successful period in their history.
And age should not diminish Lampard's ability too much, according to Ranieri.
"Speed has never been a key part of Frank's game and he has always trained hard and kept in excellent condition," added the Italian, who has also led Valencia, Juventus and Roma during a 24-year managerial career.
"He is a dream in training, a real example for all the other players. I see no reason why he shouldn't still be playing at the top level in his mid or even late 30s."
To do this, Lampard is likely to have to change his game though - a process which already seems to be underway.
At first glance, the player's statistics for this season appear to show a player in decline.
He has scored only one goal, against Norwich, and is having less than a third of the shots per game he did in 2009-10.His shooting accuracy has also declined markedly, with 58% of his attempts finding the target last season, but only 25% so far this term.
But BBC pundit Pat Nevin, twice Chelsea's player of the year in the 1980s, says the stats are actually a result of Lampard changing his role.
Goodbye attacking goalscoring midfielder, hello deeper-lying playmaker.
"Frank is now playing further back and holding the ball, passing neatly and building attacks rather than necessarily finishing them off," Nevin explained.
"People just need to adjust their preconceptions about how he plays."
The adjacent graphic supports this theory. It shows the average position Lampard (number eight) took in the first half of the 3-1 Premier League defeat by Manchester United.
He is deeper than fellow midfielders Juan Mata (10) and Ramires (seven), in a holding role alongside Raul Meireles (16).
In the second half, as Chelsea chased the game, Lampard was withdrawn by manager Villas-Boas and Mata was pushed further up the pitch alongside Fernando Torres (nine), with Nicolas Anelka (39) operating behind the duo.
Nevin says Mata has certainly now taken on Lampard's mantle as Chelsea's foremost attacking midfielder.
"If you play with Torres, you don't play long balls, as Chelsea used to when Didier Drogba was their main striker," said Nevin.
"Torres's angled runs have been exceptional ever since he joined the club, but only now, following Mata's arrival, is there someone to thread balls through to find him.
"That has never been Frank's game and he's having to evolve to find a place in this new side, with its new style of play."
So is the previously prolific Lampard reinventing himself as a deep-lying midfielder, much in the same way Paul Scholes did for Manchester United towards the end of his career?
Nevin thinks so. "Villas-Boas seems to favour a 4-2-3-1 and Frank has the tactical intelligence, vision, passing ability and tackling to be one of those two deep-lying midfielders," he argues.
Coincidentally, this is also the system Fabio Capello has recently favoured for England.
Lampard has said "there's nothing more satisfying in football than proving the critics wrong," and maybe he is about to enjoy that feeling again, for club and country.