When you become a club that’s as much of an underground circus that Everton Football Club have become, your list of possible managers shrinks. You can really only get the desperate or those with nothing better to do, or possibly those who would work nowhere else. Everton have let Duncan Ferguson, who fits the last category, take interim charge twice, but clearly don’t fancy him to take the job full time.
They weren’t always like this, and obviously offered enough to once lure Carlo Ancelotti, whose trophy case couldn’t be more full. But once that ended, they were left with the desperate in Rafa Benitez. And when that didn’t work, and spectacularly so, Everton have completely switched gears in hiring Frank Lampard, once a direct foil of Benitez’s 15 or so years ago. Lampard had been out of work since being fired by Chelsea last year, and he watched with the rest of us as Thomas Tuchel took the same team from underperforming clowns to Champions League winners. It didn’t exactly shine Lampard’s rep.
But was that totally fair? For one, Chelsea as a club have had a habit of quitting on managers in their second season. Ask Antonio Conte. Or José Mourinho in his second go-around. They didn’t even give Maurizio Sarri a second season. It’s something intrinsic. You might even start to hear a low buzz about Tuchel now as Chelsea have fallen way behind Manchester City.
Lampard also was put in the rare position of managing a different Chelsea, one that couldn’t bring in any transfers — other than Christian Pulisic. Lampard had to work with what was already there and younger kids coming back from loan or through their system. And he finished fourth with them, which Tuchel only matched the following year with the benefit of a host of signings…though, yeah, he did win the European Cup.
It was easy to label Lampard as defensively clueless, because he was an attacking midfielder who didn’t always take his defensive responsibilities seriously. But that’s not totally fair. Lampard’s Chelsea were 11th in goals-against in his one full season in charge. But metrically, they were far better. They finished fourth in expected-goals against, and fifth in post-shot expected goals against, which takes into account where a shot was placed. Lampard suffered from the fact that his keeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, might as well have not had arms given his ability in stopping shots. He let in 10 goals more than the stats say he should have. What’s a manager to do about that?
In Lampard’s second season, the defensive record wasn’t too much worse. Lampard suffered from not being able to bed in Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Ben Chillwell, and Hakim Ziyech. This isn’t a problem that Tuchel has completely solved either. Werner still doesn’t know which way the goal is. Havertz still doesn’t have a position. Ziyech has been in and out of the lineup, and bitching about both. Pulisic can’t stay on the field. Chelsea are certainly better now than they were under Lampard, but they also have a competent keeper and fully immersed Thiago Silva.
So what of Everton?
Well, the first thing Lampard can do is just lift the mood. Not only did Rafa Benitez seemingly poison the water between himself and the board, himself and the fans, the board and the fans, but the players themselves played like they were utterly miserable.
It appears already that Lampard is going to attempt to do that by going hell bent for leather. Before he’d hung up the phone to accept the job, Everton had brought in Dele Alli from Spurs and Donny van de Beek from Man United on loan. And both of them would be categorized as “modern Lampards.” Both are midfielders that get into the box and score, at least in theory. Alli has had three straight managers decide he wasn’t worth putting into the lineup. His heyday is now four seasons ago. Van de Beek was 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 exports haven’t exactly blown away the continent. But the evidence we have from his time in Amsterdam suggests that there’s something to be mined.
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 fit as the two advanced midfielders. But do Allan or Abdoulaye Doucouré have the range to cover for them?
Everton certainly need goals, as they only have 24 in 20 games. Lampard will also benefit from getting Dominic Calvert-Lewin at full health as a central striker, something Benitez never had, at least until he leaves in the summer (there are several interested clubs). He certainly can anchor a front three.
But Lampard is going to have to sort out the defense. They’ve lost Lucas Digne to sate Benitez’s tastes…for five days. Séamus Coleman has proven to be past it at right back. Adding two goal-minded midfielders isn’t really going to shield Ben Godfrey or Michael Keane or Yerry Mina in the middle. And Jordan Pickford basically stops every shot that he should stop, but nothing more. He’s no plus, but he’s no minus.
Lampard will definitely benefit from lowered expectations. Everton are flirting far too close to relegation, but they also have games in hand on the teams below them and just a few wins in the last 18 games will steer them well clear. Lampard doesn’t have to worry about qualifying for European spots or even the top half. Benitez and owner Farhad Moshiri have burned those hopes down and pissed on the ashes. Lampard just has to make sure relegation is not actually a live threat, and maybe have the team show some flair to promise an upward trajectory next season. It honestly couldn’t be lower stakes, in some terms.
But fuck up, and if relegation does becomes a serious reality, he may never recover. In those terms, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Guess we’ll find out what he is now.