This article first appeared in the print and online editions of The Irish Examiner on 5th September 2022
Six Premier League games without a win and with a visit to high flying Arsenal next in the fixture list would at any time in the last seven seasons have an Everton coach and his football management team members casting nervous glances at their Whatsapp or email correspondence with Everton’s owner Farhad Moshiri.
Despite the lowly League position, despite scoring the 4th fewest goals in the League to date, both the tenure of the football manager and most importantly, the footballing identity of Everton seem more secure and identifiable this morning than at any time in the last tumultuous seven seasons of chaos under Farhad Moshiri.
As Moshiri’s influence on footballing matters (particularly in player recruitment and manager selection) wain, so at last, despite the hundreds of millions of losses, and scandalous degrees of waste on players and managers, a new Everton is beginning to emerge under the guidance of Lampard, Thelwell and an excellent coaching squad,.
Arriving in January, surveying the wreckage of the recent past, inheriting a unbalanced, rag bag of a squad and a club reeling from the destructive influences of Benitez, in retrospect, survival, with the aid of an unbelievable response from Everton fans was a significant achievement. An achievement not recognised by Moshiri who, it is believed, wanted to seek a replacement manager after the home win against Crystal Palace – a game compared by many to be an equal experience to the famed 1985 Cup Winner’s Cup semi-final against Bayern Munich.
Fortunately, the Board of Directors read the room – they read the growing bond between Lampard and fans, they read his desire to succeed and the potential of the growing Lampard/Thelwell relationship and influence on footballing matters. Lampard had earned his right to take Everton into a new season.
A more coordinated, thought out and strategic approach to recruitment (although nearly de-railed by the potential move of Gordon and a less than convincing search for an established goalscorer) has the hallmarks of Lampard and Thelwell stamped over them.
Which leads us to the 241st Derby, the first match after the closing of a transfer window that broke new records for Premier League clubs at a time when Everton, beset by financial concerns, were in a worse relative position than at any time in Moshiri’s tenure. Yet arguably, these circumstances have provided better results. The additions of Tarkowski and Coady to defence brings Premier League know how, a steeliness and, critically, leadership. Onana, just turned 21, is an outstanding purchase. He is already hugely influential and will grow into a commanding midfield general. Without doubt he is Everton’s most exciting recruitment in many a long year.
Alongside him, the massively improved Iwobi, playing the best football of his career. A man that whilst undoubtedly skilled, possessing a tremendous physique and “engine” has until being managed by Lampard failed to deliver, but now full of energy, desire and that rarest of footballing commodities, intelligence. This Lampard inspired Iwobi model reads the game well, pops up wherever needed and has seemingly boundless energy.
Playing in a midfield three, Tom Davies had his finest game in an Everton shirt since perhaps “that” Manchester City game all those years ago. Davies has always sought direction from those that manage and coach him, often with disappointing results. On the evidence of his appearances this season, a better coached, fitter, Davies with a greater understanding of what is required from him will prove to be a useful addition to a midfield three of Gana Gueye, Onana and Iwobi.
This midfield three in front of a back four of Patterson, Coady, Tarkowski, and Mykolenko is some base to go forwards with. Mykolenko, despite the awful circumstances of his home country, relatives and friends, is developing into a wholly reliable left back (as against wing back) and in my opinion a significant up-grade on Digne. Patterson, at the age of 20, is showing maturity beyond his years and has huge potential. Having Ashley Cole as a constant training and development reference point will serve both these young full backs well throughout their careers.
A key characteristic of Lampard’s still brief tenure at Everton and very much witnessed in the match against Liverpool is the development and improvement in midfield and defence, the result of his knowledge, expertise and experience in midfield and the obvious defensive qualities of Clement and Cole. Still room for improvement, particularly from dead ball plays, but in a side which in the absence of Calvert-Lewin, isn’t full of goals, defensive excellence is going to be critical.
Talking of which, Jordan Pickford. Outstanding, both in terms of his goalkeeping but his sheer force of personality, demanding the very best from those around him. A goalkeeping Captain is a little odd, but Pickford’s commitment and his form, his development, should be an obvious example and encouragement to his teammates. His performance against Liverpool was world class, yet that shouldn’t be unexpected. His brilliance at the back end of last season (particularly against Chelsea) kept Everton in the Premier League. Long may he be undervalued by the broadcast media in particular, Evertonians know his value. In an improving side he will become an Everton icon.
An analysis of the Derby would be incomplete without referencing VAR. The failure to refer the referee, Anthony Taylor, to review the van Dijk challenge on Onana is at odds with the requirement to review for a direct red card when a “clear and obvious error” has occurred. VAR has the potential to eradicate mistakes or an omission by a referee, creating better decision making and fairer outcomes in terms of foul play etc. Incorrect use of VAR has the opposite effect. It is an issue that needs addressing urgently.
All in all a magnificent game, a game that could have been won by either side. A game in which a new Everton, a Lampard (and his team) inspired Everton that points to a much brighter future for the Blue half of Merseyside. Keep it up everyone!