Even as Frank Lampard took charge of an Everton team that had won just once in 13 matches, sights were set on the upper echelons of the Premier League. Now, though, the realisation has come crashing down on the Goodison Park club that they are in the midst of a relegation fight. They are only looking over their shoulder.
The Toffees have won just one of the six Premier League fixtures they have played with Lampard at the helm with the Merseyside outfit now only above the relegation zone on goal difference. Everton might still have lofty ambitions as a club, but they must first secure their place in the top flight for another season.
It’s not just that Everton are in poor form, it’s that many teams around them in the Premier League table are in resurgent form. Not so long ago, Newcastle United found themselves below the Toffees and fearful of the drop. Now, they are nine points ahead and comfortably away from danger.
Leeds United’s win over Norwich City saw them extend their advantage over the Toffees to four points with Watford’s recent victory against Southampton drawing them level on points with Lampard’s team. Everton’s margin for error has been completely eliminated. They cannot wait any longer for results to come. The final 12 matches of the season will be make or break.
As a coach, Lampard isn’t renowned for his ability as an organiser. At Chelsea, his team was criticised for being defensively vulnerable and it appears his Everton side have the same weakness. The Toffees have kept just one clean sheet since the appointment of Lampard at the end of January.
Of course, some of these issues date back to the first half of the season when Rafael Benitez was in charge. However, there has been no ‘new manager bounce’ since a change in the dugout was made. If anything, the problems that emerged under Benitez have only been accentuated further under Lampard.
Goodison Park is a toxic place right now. The Everton fanbase have voiced their disgruntlement at a team they cannot relate to. Lampard is at his best as a motivator, but he has seemingly inherited a group of players who are struggling for any sort of traction. On their current trajectory, Everton are heading for the Championship.
“I’ve played for 20 years and I have seen plenty of reactions from crowds,” said Lampard after Everton’s home defeat to Wolves which witnessed fan protests from the stands. “I can’t stand there and say ‘Thanks very much for helping us play so well against Brentford and Leeds and Manchester City’ – and deserve more in that game – and not expect that the fans that want the team to do well, want the team to stay up and get wins, will not have reactions. I don’t put an emphasis on Goodison Park, I want to get points everywhere,”
Thursday night’s home match against Newcastle United could be a turning point in Everton’s season. The stakes could hardly be any higher. Three points could give Lampard and his players a springboard with winnable games against Watford and Burnley on the horizon. Another defeat, however, would only deepen the sense of malaise around the club. The point of no return is edging closer and closer.
If Everton can clamber away from danger, Lampard could help them build from there. However, the former midfielder might not be the right man for a relegation scrap. Everton need defensive organisation and a structure that will support the talent they have in the dressing room. There is no evidence Lampard can provide that.