While no one, not even the most hardcore dyed-in-the-wool Blue was expecting Everton to be contending for the Champions League this season, there was at least the expectation that given a full summer at the job Frank Lampard would at least have the Blues somewhere in the fringes of the top half of the table, where they have spent the best part of the past decade or so.
The performances were encouraging to start even though the results didn’t follow, and then for a short phase the Toffees won some games and it looked like they were starting to gel, but the last few weeks have seen that defensive structure disintegrate, the midfield in disarray and the attack firing blanks in game after game, leading to some humiliating losses and Everton plummeting down the table. With 15 games played the Blues sit in 17th place in the league, one point above the relegation zone with 14 points, 11 goals scored and 17 conceded.
With club football taking a back seat for the next few weeks for the World Cup, this was an opportune time for the RBM crew to discuss the first half of the season, and answer three questions. We’d love to hear your opinions to the same questions in the comments below.
Your thoughts on the season so far - are we where you would have expected?
Geoff - Absolutely not where I expected. I honestly expected we’d be around 10th or 11th which is where we were until the disastrous last few weeks. The fall-away has been dramatic Everton at their worst. It’s almost as if after a couple of good results, the intensity in the players’ mindset takes a dive. This team MUST play with intensity to compete.
John - No. While I wasn’t expecting us to be challenging at the top, I did expect us to have more points on the board and be a lot more combative and robust in games.
Pat - There have been some small glimmers of hope during the season so far, but ultimately any sense of hope has fallen flat. The World Cup break couldn’t have come at a better time. No excuses if we come back looking the same as before.
Peter - The season has been frustrating. There has been a huge gap between our best play and our worst. The inability to string together solid performances has made it impossible to build some confidence.
Trent - I think that concerning the season so far, we have had spurts of positive play sandwiched by stretches where results simply do not go our way. The AFC Bournemouth matches were harsh reminders that, against certain squads and styles, the team is woefully incapable; with that said, this team should definitely be above 17th position on the Premier League table with all the talent it has.
Kevin - Not quite. The team was awful last season and losing Richarlison was a big blow. The recruitment had been sensible, so I’d anticipated a midtable campaign, with Everton finishing up somewhere between 10th and 15th, assuming some missing pieces were added in January.
Garrett - When I walked out of the main stand at Goodison after the 0-0 draw in the Derby, I was very confident that we would not be involved in the relegation battle this season based on the performance I had just watched. We now know, however, that Liverpool are not what they used to be, and we know that this may become the most open-ended relegation battle in decades. So, based on how I felt after that game, yes I am surprised, but we probably should have foreseen the problems we’re currently having. There’s no goals in the team, especially when Dominic Calvert-Lewin is injured, which unfortunately is more often than not nowadays. We have very little quality in wide areas. Neal Maupay simply does not fit the way we currently play, and Lampard is seemingly unwilling to adapt his ideas depending on available personnel. That is clearly not a recipe for success.
Calvin - This might also be a contrarian view, but the beginning of the season portended to exactly this situation. The underlying metrics showed that the defence was playing out of it’s mind to keep us in games (the shots against were off the charts), and the attack was simply not creating enough. Compounded by abysmal finishing in recent weeks, Everton are now regressing to the mean, and that means we are exactly where we deserve to be in the table right about now.
Other teams like Leicester City had poor starts too, but their advanced stats showed that a positive upturn was coming, and they’ve raced past us. Worryingly, Nottingham Forest are starting to put it all together too now, which means we are one of the worst three teams in the league, and we all know what usually happens to that trio at the end of the season.
What has Frank Lampard gotten right, and what has he missed?
Geoff - On a positive note he has revamped our midfield from a pedestrian, passive unit to one that actually can and does recover the ball and offers some as yet unfulfilled promise going forward. He has also introduced guile and nous into the centre of our defence, and has clearly got Alex Iwobi in a different frame of mind and is getting a tune out of him where 3 previous permanent managers could not.
On a negative note I worry about his team selection at times and particularly the delays in him making changes to either system or personnel if things not going well. He’s too loyal and too slow to react.
Unless he’s putting on a brave face or trying to protect brittle player confidence his faith in some under-performers is plain annoying. I don’t expect him to publicly destroy individuals but players don’t often play themselves back into form in a poorly performing team.
His so-called willingness to give youth a chance is rapidly becoming a myth. When you have young players like Tom Cannon and Stanley Mills scoring goals for fun at Under-21 level why has it taken so long for either of them to get a sniff of first team action in an impotent attack?
John - We are more organised under Frank Lampard. The additions of James Tarkowski and Conor Coady provide much-needed leadership and resilience to a team that had little to none. I also think the man-management of Iwobi has been excellent. He looks a different player and his work rate is phenomenal. I think Lampard has missed a full-fit DCL and the injury of Nathan Patterson couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Often the midfield three hasn’t worked and I do wish James Garner would have been introduced a bit sooner, although I don’t see what goes on in training or know how fit he is. Richarlison has also been a huge loss that we have simply not replaced. And while I am not quite ready to give up on Anthony Gordon, he is no replacement for the Brazilian.
Pat - The backline has been the only thing he’s gotten right really. We simply can’t play with Amadou Onana, Idrissa Gueye, and Iwobi in the midfield—too many clashing personalities. Not to mention, our wingers have been underwhelming.
Peter - Our defensive record has been a huge improvement. The chaos of last year has been replaced by organization. Corners were our Achilles heel last year and this year we are more solid and are ranked 4th in goals conceded whereas last year we were 17th. The team is still looking for an identity. Rarely has a game happened where we were on the front foot consistently. Crystal Palace was the obvious positive. As for Lampard, he is too slow making changes although that might be because there is very little on the bench to introduce.
Trent - Concerning players, I wouldn’t say I have frustration with anyone that was just recently signed. Maupay has been the most disappointing, but it takes time to slot into a new team no matter where you move to and from. Whether anyone is added in January or not, we have to wait and see how everyone plays and grows in the coming months to know how good Everton actually are.
Concerning tactics, I think that the team plays aggressively, but I don’t always love the selections. Demarai Gray has quality, but provides more in my view coming off of the bench. Anthony Gordon could finish better as well, but he offers better quality if Dwight McNeil is going to play on the other side of either Calvert-Lewin or Maupay.
Kevin - Positives have been the focus on strong characters and durability when recruiting players last summer, as well as adding experience and potential. He’s trying to imprint an identity, a style of play, which is needed going forward. An effort was made to build from the back forwards, which is how squad construction should be undertaken. He talks well, is committed to the team, unlike some previous managers and makes every effort to build a bond with the fanbase. Helping to reinvent Iwobi as a central midfielder, which I did not see working at all.
Negatives would be the failure to add goals and creativity to the side, which is really becoming a big problem. The style of play is breaking down due to a mishandling of the midfield setup over recent games, alternating between ineffective playing out and lumping the ball aimlessly up the pitch. Although players were brought in during the summer, I feel some useful assets (Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan, Ruben Vinagre) have been discarded, or underutilised, leaving the team’s depth options not what they should be. Sticking too rigidly to trusting the same 12-13 players every week, regardless of performance. Not using the bench effectively. Setting up wrong and then a lack of tactical adjustments during a match.
Garrett - At the moment, he’s getting a lot of things wrong. I think first and foremost, the way he has organized the midfield has been borderline criminal. That should be our strongest area of the pitch, and it very clearly was against Palace when we played with Onana and Gueye as a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1. However, we have not seen it once since and the results have absolutely fallen off a cliff as a result. Why he didn’t continue with the system which brought us our best performance of the entire calendar year is just mind-boggling. In terms of getting things right… I honestly can’t think of anything right now. Maybe that’s recency bias, but I really don’t believe he’s doing himself any favors right now.
Calvin - I’m having a hard time thinking about what he’s doing right especially when even the most casual Everton observer can pick apart his squad selection, tactics and in-game adjustments. The 4-2-3-1 works best for the squad we have right now, and his continued deviation from it especially to send Onana forward a la Marouane Fellaini is just mindboggling as it doesn’t work. If anything he’s chipping away at the youngster’s confidence and it needs to stop right away. The midfield has become a an autobahn and it’s no surprise at all that the defence is continuously stretched with little cover in front of them.
What do Everton need to do in December to get out of this hole?
Geoff - Wolves at home has become a must-win game for Lampard and all Evertonians. He has to stick to his attacking principles for that game and play 4-2-3-1, no five-at-the-back, no over-cautious approach, play the striker most likely to score against one of the worst defences in the league, for me that would be Cannon even if Calvert-Lewin is fit enough for the bench. Play Michael Keane or Yerry Mina alongside Tarkowski for this one, Diego Costa if he plays has experience and strength but no pace, we just need strength and if he’s anywhere near match-fit I’d pick Mina.
I’d be quite happy going to a back-three with wing backs for the City game where, as a primary target, we will be looking to limit damage to the goals against column. Three points from those two games is a necessity.
John - Win games! Easier said than done but we have to be more competitive in midfield and far more clinical up front. Until January, we are relying solely on the talent we have, so we go with what we have. Gana and Onana together do not work, our midfield is passive and pedestrian and other teams simply overcrowd it and stroll through it. With Godfrey returning, perhaps explore a back three. now Patterson is back, perhaps he and either Vitaliy Mykolenko or Vinagre will provide the width we so desperately lack. Gana and Garner sitting and Iwobi behind a front two. Maupay or DCL? Maybe Gray as a second striker? Our options are limited.
Pat - I would hope Frank will be running his players ragged in training the next few weeks. This World Cup break should serve as serious sit-down period for Frank and the Board. This is starting to look too much like last season already.
Peter - The time in Australia has to be used to solidify what Lampard wants tactically. There needs to be clarity from Lampard. How to switch from defending to attack, along with how and when pressing happens. We need to get our players fit and ready to face the challenges that are in front of us. Finally, we need to see how our U21’s can be incorporated into the team during matches.
Trent - I think that the execution in the final third has been lacking. Watching the matches, it feels like each match someone misses a sitter that comes back to bite the squad at some point. Finishing more clinically would take some pressure off of the defense and allow for them to play with a bit more comfort.
Kevin - Lampard has to analyse what’s been going wrong and adjust his gameplan accordingly, so as not to expose weaknesses in the team, but rather protect those areas. Bring in at least two attacking options in the January transfer window, as the side is chronically short of goals, individual flair and creativity.
Garrett - Figure out how to put the ball in the back of the net. Simple as.
Calvin - All I want from Frank is to go back and rewatch every game we’ve played this season, ideally with all his coaching staff. Hopefully someone in the damn room is willing to show him that his obstinacy is going to be the end of him not only at Everton but in his coaching career as well.