If any Everton supporters were still in doubt, their team’s 3-1 defeat to Newcastle United on Tuesday evening was confirmation they are in a relegation scrap – and one that will not automatically be resolved by the presence of Frank Lampard.
A run of four consecutive losses leaves Everton just two points above the dotted line, but worse than that, the ‘new-manager bounce’ anticipated under Lampard has not happened.
Honeymoon cut short, the only thing that will help Everton now is good coaching and yet, alarmingly, Tuesday’s defeat filled the Lampardian tactical bingo card.
His Chelsea team had some consistent flaws that made it simple for opponents to come up with a game-plan to exploit defensive errors and porousness between the lines. Newcastle followed that template and it worked perfectly.
But these are very early days and Lampard cannot be expected to perform miracles. He will need time on the training ground to get his ideas across and, with a new coaching team alongside him, he deserves a clean slate.
Nevertheless, it is worth reminding ourselves of Lampard’s tactical philosophy and how it was unveiled – warts and all – on his Everton Premier League debut, in order to reveal what changes he needs to make to be a success at Goodison Park.
Lampard’s tactical ideology
The Lampard method can really only be spoken about in broad strokes and buzzwords because, in 18 months at Chelsea, it never expanded beyond a vague idea of how to play, rather than a detailed or specific methodology like those seen at the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.
He wants his teams to play on the front foot; to press hard, hold a high line, pass out from the back, and attack in large numbers. It is a commendable idea and one the Everton fans have been crying out for after the tedious defensive caution of Rafael Benitez.
But because these ideas were not matched by fine-tuning the positional play of individuals, it created serious problems at Chelsea.
It is vital that teams are compressed between the lines at all times, on and off the ball, but Chelsea were elongated; stretched and holey, such was the improvisational nature of the team.
His players were allowed to roam wherever they liked, it seemed, abandoning the basic formation structure either by pouring forward to attack or pressing sporadically.
It meant Chelsea were highly vulnerable to being caught on the counterattack because they did not have the even distribution of bodies to regain possession (note how a Pep Guardiola team, by contrast, is always in a regimented and tightly-wound shape, never leaving space for opponents no matter the phase of play).
It also meant that when heads dropped, Chelsea struggled to create chances.
Without patterns of how and when to pass and move, drilled in training, to fall back on, the players had to improvise even when confidence was low.
Creativity suffers when the mind is in a fog.
Signs of the same problems at St. James Park
Throughout this game, Everton pressed Newcastle, but without much success or particular order.
They attempted to constantly pass out from the back, making numerous errors in the process and losing the ball again and again. They left huge spaces for Newcastle to counterattack.
We should not expect perfection from Lampard straight away, of course, and mistakes are bound to happen in the early days of a tactical shift.
But what is worrying is how persistent they were with their methods as Lampard failed to adapt, to dial it down, in appreciation of how much he was asking after just a few days in charge.
Change should be incremental. Instead, Everton played like a caricature of a Lampard team and Eddie Howe, to his great credit, anticipated this by instructing his Newcastle players to a) put huge pressure on the Everton centre-backs and central midfielders and b) break as quickly as possible through Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin.
The basic idea, repeated over and over, was for Joelinton and Joe Willock to man-mark Andre Gomes and Allan in open play, sprinting to get tight to them in order to disrupt and block Everton’s attempts at playing short-passing football through the lines.
It worked brilliantly, with Lampard to blame for the strange decision to deploy just two central midfielders in a 3-4-3 that looked uncomfortable for the players.
Wing-backs Andros Townsend and Seamus Coleman rarely made themselves available, forcing the centre-backs to keep trying to find Allan and Gomes, the latter proving particularly poor at resisting the press.
Applying so much pressure gave Newcastle a tactical and psychological upper hand, while Everton’s spread-out and improvised attacks left gaps for Howe’s team to break.
The first and second Newcastle goals came after they pinched possession, first capitalising on Mason Holgate’s loose pass to Gomes and then scoring directly after tackling Dele Alli.
The third arrived after a foul from Allan, who had been left hopelessly exposed in a decompressed Everton midfield.
The statistics (taken from FBRef) back up the theory that this was classic Lampard: Everton were dispossessed 21 times, more than in any other game this season.
They were also dribbled past more times (16) than in any other match in 2021-22. Newcastle made more interceptions (17) than they have in any other game and achieved a season high for fast breaks (3), per Opta.
First steps for Lampard to take
The first thing that has to change is the formation. If the goal is to hold possession and patiently play through the lines, then it is vital Lampard uses three central midfielders to do so.
More teams will copy Howe’s approach with aggression in the middle of the park and Everton don’t have the midfield quality to cope with this in a two.
Gomes is not the sort of player that Lampard will be able to rely upon, and indeed his passive mentality and tendency to get caught on the ball means he needs to be left out.
Lampard is unlucky that Tom Davies and Fabian Delph are injured and he may feel he has no choice but to pick Gomes for now.
More importantly, Lampard needs to be less dogmatic in his tactical identity until such a time that his ideas click in training.
Too often against Newcastle his defenders looked to play a line-splitting pass despite Newcastle’s press, most notably in the period of play that led to Holgate’s own goal, and it became easy for the Magpies to apply pressure then set Joelinton and Saint-Maximin away.
Simply repeating the Chelsea structure at Everton, a club without the same technical quality and mired in the low self-esteem of a relegation battle, won’t work.
Instead, he needs a less idealistic vision – and he needs to coach his ideas with considerably greater precision.
It is far too early to tell whether he and his team can do so. But judging by a poor performance and defeat at Newcastle on Tuesday, Lampard needs to make big changes.