The sense of relief around Goodison Park was palpable as Everton secured their Premier League status for another season with a 3-2 comeback win over Crystal Palace in the penultimate fixture of the 2021/22 campaign. For a long time, it appeared the Toffees would suffer relegation from the English top flight for the first time since 1951.
Frank Lampard and his players made a vow to move on from a regrettable experience. Everton should never have been anywhere near the relegation zone. The quality of their squad should have put them in mid-table, maybe even in the top half, while the size of the club ranks them among the biggest in the Premier League.
And yet Everton’s pre-season results and performances suggest they are making the same mistakes all over again. A 4-0 thumping at the hands of Minnesota United was particularly concerning with the Toffees disgorged and disinterested all over the pitch. The shoreline was a true reflection of how the match was played.
“The players have to work and understand we were in a relegation battle for a big portion of last season,” Lampard explained afterwards. “We had an amazing night [against Crystal Palace] and an amazing run but, as soon as that finished, I put it to bed very quickly, so the players have to put it to bed as well, because we were in that fight for a reason. And if we don’t want to be in that situation again, they have to better and I have to be better.”
Richarlison’s departure to Tottenham Hotspur has left Everton desperately short in attack. The Brazilian was central to the run of results that pulled the Toffees away from relegation in the final few weeks of last season with his movement and general threat in and around the box so important.
Of course, Everton still have Dominic Calvert-Lewin as the focal point of their attack, but the England international can sometimes be left isolated if he doesn’t have support around him, and Richarlison was the primary source of that support. Now Richarlison is gone, it’s unclear who will fill the void he has left behind.
“There is no doubt about it, when you think of where we were last year, we have lost a big player in Richarlison,” Lampard admitted. “We know there is a void in forward areas, we are short in numbers there. Also, through the team, there are things I want to strengthen, and I can be honest about that, because a club like Everton has to have a competitive squad.”
Faced with the reality of Everton’s possible relegation from the Premier League last season, Lampard made a number of changes to turn his team into a more compact, conservative outfit. They had the desired effect as the Toffees became tougher to beat. They battled their way to important wins over Chelsea and Manchester United.
The idea was that these would be short-term measures and that Lampard would adopt a more modern approach this season that would allow Everton to impose their own style. It might, however, be the case that Everton must prioritise the short-term. Lampard might have no choice but to revert to the conservatism that saved Everton last term.
There is still time for Everton to sign the players they need to at least replenish their attack following the exit of Richarlison to Spurs, but there has been no fundamental change of direction or vision at Goodison Park over the summer. Until this happens, the Toffees might be destined to repeat the same experience.