With the return of Premier League action quickly approaching, it’s safe to say that Frank Lampard can not afford for the dreadful run of form that his Everton side struggled with before the break to continue after it. The Toffees failed to win any of their last four matches in all competitions before the World Cup, including two three-goal defeats to AFC Bournemouth in four days. With the club hovering just one point above the bottom three, there is very little margin for error when the team returns to action. That said, here are the three main issues Frank Lampard must address in order to return his team to winning ways.
1. Team Shape
In the emphatic 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace, Frank Lampard employed a 4-2-3-1 for the first time this season, and it worked to perfection. Playing Amadou Onana and Idrissa Gueye as double pivots in the midfield gave Alex Iwobi the freedom he needed to create at the high rate that he has thus far this season without leaving the team defensively vulnerable. However, Lampard inexplicably abandoned that tactic following its success, leaving a 33-year-old Gueye as the lone protector of the back-line. Onana was clearly instructed to push further forwards, leaving the team extremely vulnerable to the counter attack whenever the ball was given away in an inopportune area. The youngster often found himself in no-mans land both with and without possession.
Bournemouth in particular took extreme advantage of this fact in the league match, recording 16 shots and 2.45 xG despite keeping just 36% possession across the 90 minutes. As I discussed on Toffee TV’s “The Final Word” prior to my departure from England, Lampard must return to that 4-2-3-1 shape which provided his team with by far their best performance of the season.
2. Chances Conceded
The systemic problems just discussed have resulted in Everton being one of the easiest teams to attack against. Somehow, the Toffees have only conceded 17 goals in the Premier League season thus far, but it’s clear that they have ridden their luck to that relatively low figure. The team’s xGA figure stands all the way up at 25.4, second worst to only Fulham. That difference between GA and xGA of 8.4 goals is the largest in the league by over 4.
Jordan Pickford has been crucial in that overperformance, as he currently ranks third in the Premier League for Post-Shot xG saved with an outstanding 3.4, only topped by Kepa’s 4.7 and Alisson’s otherworldly 7.6.
Center-back James Tarkowski leads the league by a mile in blocks with 38, more than double second place Ben Mee’s 18. Although this shows that the 30-year-old has defended admirably, it also shows the vast amount of shots that the club have conceded. Their tally of 252 shots allowed is the most in the Premier League, but their rate of goals conceded per shot is joint best with Newcastle at 0.06.
They have also allowed the most open-play crosses completed with 52, the most shot-creating actions with 448, the most shots leading to another shot with 31, and the second most touches in the penalty area with 423. These numbers are beyond damning, and illustrate just how urgent it is for Lampard to fix the structural issues which have made his team so easy to play through.
3. Deficiency Going Forward
While the team has conceded the most shots, shot-creating actions, completed crosses, and corners, they have been simultaneously one of the more wasteful teams in the league in the final third. They have scored 5.4 goals fewer than xG would suggest, which ranks 3rd worst in the league behind only West Ham and Wolves.
Their 11 goals scored is joint second-worst with Nottingham Forest, with Wolves sitting last with just 8. Everton’s goals scored per shot figure of 0.06 is joint third-worst in the league. Only 4 of the 18 Everton players to have taken a shot this season have over-performed their xG; Dwight McNeil, Conor Coady, Alex Iwobi, and Anthony Gordon. The problems, however, go beyond just finishing. Everton have been the easiest team to tackle in the league, with a 59.1% success rate by opponents, and lead the league in miscontrolled passes with 258, leading to why they’ve only kept 44.8% possession on average this season.
Heading into the break, Everton had failed to score in 5 of their prior 6 league games and in 6 of their prior 8 games in all competitions. That one league game in which the did score was, of course, the 3-0 victory over Palace. Hopefully, the Wolves game on Boxing Day will see not only the return of Dominic Calvert-Lewin who was so impactful in that victory, but also the return of the 4-2-3-1 which saw Everton score three goals in a league game for only the third time under Frank Lampard.
By no means do I believe that change of shape will solve all of Everton’s problems, but I think Lampard would be a fool not to give it another go.
These three massive problems were more than evident in Everton’s performances prior to the World Cup break, and Evertonians will really be hoping to see the results of Lampard’s work during that time in what I consider to be a must-win game against bottom of the table Wolves.
Finances permitting, Lampard and Thelwell may also be looking to strengthen the squad via the January transfer window in order to help solve these glaring flaws within the team. Either way, the results must quickly improve, or Everton may be stuck in a similar if not worse situation than last year come the end of the season. For the sake of the fanbase’s collective mental health, let’s hope not.