Everton’s board took the decision to sack Frank Lampard but his sacking is as much their fault as it is his
Frank Lampard has experienced everything in his short tenure as the manager of Everton. The epic scenes at Goodison as Everton avoided relegation on the penultimate day of the Premier League season felt like the start of something for Lampard and the Blue side of Merseyside.
Just eight months later, his final match in charge of the club was punctuated by the silence from the Everton away end at the London Stadium. Unfortunately for Frank and his players, a lack of cohesion in the boardroom, some catastrophic transfer business, and ultimately, questions about Frank’s suitability meant that the era that we thought had just begun at the end of last season was now over.
The questions had intensified, the board was dodging questions as much as they were dodging matches, and finally, the Everton board made the decision to part ways with Frank Lampard. The decision came down following their 2-0 defeat at the London Stadium against fellow relegation candidates West Ham. The seeds of his sacking had been germinating for months though, and in fact they had been planted shortly after those same joyous celebrations at Goodison. Giving themselves a platform for 2022/23 was always the goal on the back of a nearly embarrassing season.
Everton are often midtable but the idea of them being in a genuine relegation battle was just now how the club thinks of themselves. They are one of the established Premier League clubs, and a club that has only suffered relegation from the top flight twice in their 136-year history. They have been in the English top flight longer than crosstown rivals Liverpool and they had just survived a close shave. Surely the time had come to make sure that Lampard had the backing he needed and to get Everton comfortable in the Premier League once again.
The situation in Everton’s boardroom has been questionable for some time, with Farhad Moshiri (and until February Alisher Usmanov) having significant say in the club’s decisions since 2016. Marcel Brands was the one who ended up with the 2021/22 millstone around his neck.
Having been appointed Everton’s Director of Football, Brands was supposed to be in charge of building the squad but it seemed Moshiri would intervene, with Brands telling De Telegraaf that Moshiri would recruit players in parallel with Brands but without the Director of Football having any prior knowledge of the negotiation. Brands bore the brunt of the failures to build a cohesive squad and left for PSV but the club’s transfer approach remained steady. Then the transfer window opened, and with it an opportunity to give Lampard a squad he could get the most out of.
Fifteen goal contributions were one of the first things out the door in the form of Richarlison who was snagged for around 58m Euros by Spurs. This money represented an opportunity for Everton to invest and with the well-documented injury struggles of talismanic striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, goals would be a priority for reinvestment. Two players were purchased for this purpose.
Dwight McNeil and Neal Maupay. McNeil seems a bright young talent but at Burnley, as an attacker, he played an entire Premier League season in 2021/22 without registering a goal and only contributed one assist. Maupay had a better return but had become the face of Graham Potter’s Brighton winning the Expected Goals battle without often scoring the goals. His eight goals in 2021/22 were against an xG of almost 14. In other words, he would have been expected to have six more goals and most elite strikers over-perform their xG.
The reality was that Everton were relying on their existing players to start scoring. Dominic Calvert-Lewin needed to recapture some of the form that he had prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. His 16 goals in 2020/21 represent the last time he registered double-digit goals in the Premier League and he just has not been able to stay fit the last two seasons.
Anthony Gordon, the other bright attacking talent already at Goodison, has 7 Premier League goals in nearly 4000 minutes in Everton Blue. The reality is that they needed to invest in a proven goalscorer to have a shot at being a settled midtable side in an increasingly intense and competitive Premier League.
Most of the cash, instead, went into recruiting Amadou Onana from Lille. This purchase of the young midfielder is fine on its face, and indeed Onana seems one of the few bright spots in an otherwise sorry Everton squad. He is a quality player and will have a great career. They also did have a need in midfield with the departures of Andre Gomes, Allan and the continued inability to incorporate Jean-Phillipe Gbamin. His addition just failed to address one of the glaring needs of the squad.
Another chunk of the money was spent on James Garner, another young midfielder from Manchester United who spent the last two seasons on loan at Nottingham Forest. Garner though has only featured in nine percent of the minutes available for Everton this season and while investing 10m Euros in a potential talent like that is fine for a club with a settled squad, a team that so desperately need a refresh opted to look further into the future. Onana (and apparently Gordon) are already rumored to be on their way out, possibly before the month is over.
Idrissa Gana-Gueye made his return for a small fee paid to PSG while James Tarkowski and Conor Coady were added in central defense on free transfers. Dele Alli, who had been thought of as a potential game-changer at Everton, was loaned unceremoniously to Besiktas in Turkey. This was effectively the end of Everton’s transfer business and the club had absolutely failed in their remit to give Frank Lampard a squad that was capable of being a solidly midtable squad. Lampard would need to find ways to make this squad greater than the sum of its parts.
When the season kicked off, they lined up in a 5-4-1 that felt as if it was built for the player who was not available. The approach seemed to be a very slight move away from the defensive solidity that had been so famously employed to keep Everton up. The utilization of wingbacks Vitaliy Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson seemed to be attempting to find new ways to attack while Demarai Gray, Gordon and presumably, Calvert-Lewin would combine as a three with a solid double pivot in midfield.
How has Lampard’s approach worked in practice? The setup in attack has produced only about nine shots per match. While Everton have a decent passing approach, completing about 84.4% of their passes, they just were not generating much of note once they got into advanced areas.
Out of possession, they stood off their opponents for the most part, allowing about 13 passes per defensive action, meaning they were not harrying or pressing with any regularity. This was also leading to issues in defense as they were allowing 14 shots on average to their opponents and on average nearly .85 more xG per match as a result. Lampard’s setup was neither particularly potent nor defensively stout.
Anthony Gordon ended up leading the line in lieu of Calvert-Lewin and it felt like they would struggle to score goals. Demarai Gray was tried up top as well, with Lampard shifting Gordon to the left but still the goals were scarce and the points were trickling in. Lampard shifted to a 4-2-3-1 to try to involve Iwobi higher up the pitch and a succession of draws took place.
After six matches they were winless and Lampard was looking for another change. He shifted to a 4-3-3 and the signs were looking a bit better. Maupay grabbed a goal to give Everton a win over West Ham and then McNeil chipped in along with Conor Coady to lift the Blues over Southampton. Things looked to finally be clicking. Little did Lampard know that he only had one more Everton win left.
A tough stretch that included losses to Manchester United, Spurs and Newcastle could have been written off and it nearly was. A 3-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace at Goodison had things looking like they had truly turned it around. Calvert-Lewin was back with a goal, as were Gordon and McNeil. The false dawn was short-lived. Eight matches without a win followed, six of them defeats.
Everton were a solid defensive team, but Lampard’s approach was not especially effective at stopping opposition opportunities. Everton’s Expected Goals Against (xGA) is 35.02 according to Understat, good enough for the second-worst total in the Premier League. They are outperforming this xGA by seven goals, suggesting that their defensive record so far could be even worse.
The story in xG at first seems positive. Their xG, while not good at 20.16 is still superior to Bournemouth, Wolves and Crystal Palace. The reality for Everton though is that they are underperforming this total by five full goals. So while they are not creating a volume of quality chances, they also are not finishing them with any sort of regularity. This combination, allowing lots of good chances while scoring far fewer goals than even their paltry expectation has led Everton to this point of moving on from Lampard.
Frank Lampard departs Everton having dealt with two extremely difficult managerial situations. He navigated a transfer embargo at Chelsea and was asked to save Everton despite significant boardroom issues and dysfunction. Despite all of that, Lampard was unable to exert a true style on Everton and seemed to be tinkering more than he was actually cementing a football philosophy. His legacy at Everton will carry a lot of emotional weight, just as his tenure at Chelsea did, but the weight of his impact will not be felt on Merseyside for long.
Shortly after Lampard’s departure, reports have surfaced that Moshiri is looking to sell the club as well. Whoever steps into the managerial job as Frank Lampard’s successor will be facing an uphill battle at a storied club that looks destined now for a third-ever relegation from the English top-flight.
By: Phil Baki / @PhilTalksFooty
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Chris Lee – Getty Images