When you become a club that looks as much like an underground circus as Everton Football Club has become, your list of possible managers shrinks. You can really only get the desperate ones or the ones who have nothing better to do, or maybe the ones who wouldn’t work anywhere else. Everton let Duncan Ferguson, who belongs to the latter category, take over the interim twice, but clearly does not want him to take the job full-time.
They weren’t always like this, and obviously offered enough to once attract Carlo Ancelotti, whose trophy box couldn’t be more full. But once that was over, they were left with the desperate Rafa Benitez. And when that didn’t work, and in spectacular fashion, Everton completely shifted gears by signing Frank Lampard, once a direct foil to Benitez around 15 years ago. Lampard has been out of work since being sacked by Chelsea last year, and he watched with us as Thomas Tuchel took the same team from underachieving clowns to Champions League winners. It didn’t really shine on Lampard’s representative.
But was that completely fair? For one thing, Chelsea as a club have had a habit of leaving managers in their second season. Ask Antonio Conte. Or José Mourinho during his second go-around. They didn’t even give Maurizio Sarri a second season. It is something intrinsic. You might even start to hear a faint buzz about Tuchel now that Chelsea are far behind Manchester City.
Lampard was also put in the rare position of managing another Chelsea, one who couldn’t bring in any transfers – other than Christian Pulisic. Lampard had to work with what was already there and young children returning from loan or through their system. And he finished fourth with them, which Tuchel didn’t equal until the following year with the advantage of a host of signings…although, yes, he did win the European Cup.
It was easy to label Lampard defensively clueless, as he was an attacking midfielder who didn’t always take his defensive responsibilities seriously. But that’s not quite fair. Lampard’s Chelsea finished 11th in goals scored in his only full season in charge. But metrically they were much better. They were fourth in expected goals against and fifth in expected goals after shot, which takes into account where a shot was placed. Lampard suffered because his goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, might as well have had no arms given his ability to stop shots. He conceded 10 more goals than the stats say he should have. What should a manager do about it?
In Lampard’s second season, the defensive record wasn’t too bad. Lampard suffered from not being able to sleep with Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Ben Chillwell and Hakim Ziyech. It’s also not a problem that Tuchel has completely solved. Werner still doesn’t know in which direction the goal is. Havertz still has no position. Ziyech has been in and out of training, and bitches about both. Pulisic cannot stay on the pitch. Chelsea are certainly better now than they were under Lampard, but they also have a capable goalkeeper and Thiago Silva fully immersed.
So what about Everton?
Well, the first thing Lampard can do is just cheer up. Not only did Rafa Benitez seemingly poison the water between him and the board, him and the fans, the board and the fans, but the players themselves played as if they were completely miserable.
It already looks like Lampard will attempt to do just that by focusing on leather. Before hanging up the phone to take the job, Everton had brought in Dele Alli from Spurs and Donny van de Beek from Man United on loan. And both would be categorized as “Modern Lampards”. Both are midfielders who get into the box and score, at least in theory. Alli had three consecutive managers who decided he wasn’t worth putting him in the lineup. Its peak is now four seasons ago. Van de Beek has been exiled by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United, and Ralf Rangnick apparently has no interest in being his salvation. We don’t really know what he can do, and Ajax’s exports haven’t exactly blown the continent away. But the evidence we have from his stay in Amsterdam suggests there is something to be exploited.
We know Lampard prefers a 4-3-3, a change from Benitez’s 4-4-2, and Alli and von de Beek would seem to be suitable as two advanced midfielders. But do Allan or Abdoulaye Doucouré have the range to cover them?
Everton definitely need goals as they only have 24 in 20 games. Lampard will also benefit from the full health of Dominic Calvert-Lewin as a central striker, something Benitez never had, at least until his departure this summer (there are several clubs interested). He can definitely anchor a front three.
But Lampard will have to settle the defense. They lost Lucas Digne to sate the likes of Benitez…for five days. Séamus Coleman has proven that he has moved on to right-back. Adding two goal-oriented midfielders isn’t really going to protect Ben Godfrey or Michael Keane or Yerry Mina in the middle. And Jordan Pickford stops just about every shot he should stop, but nothing more. It is not more, but it is not less.
Lampard will certainly benefit from lowered expectations. Everton are flirting way too close to relegation, but they also have ongoing games on the teams below them and just a few wins in the last 18 will keep them well away. Lampard doesn’t have to worry about qualifying for the European places or even the top half. Benitez and owner Farhad Moshiri burned those hopes and pissed on the ashes. Lampard just needs to make sure relegation isn’t actually a real threat, and maybe the team are showing some flair to promise an upward trajectory next season. Honestly, it couldn’t be lower stakes, in some ways.
But fuck it, and if relegation becomes a serious reality, he may never recover. In those terms, the stakes couldn’t be higher. I guess we’ll find out what it is now.