Apparently, you hear it before you see it. The incessant rap-tap of laptop keyboards, the constant stop and start of scrutinised game footage, and the bursts of serious conversation.
The stretch of offices dedicated to Everton’s first team coaching staff at Finch Farm is a hive of focused activity. For Frank Lampard and his assistants, long days are par for the course in the search for marginal gains to aid Everton’s fight for Premier League survival.
Lampard’s relaxed smiling demeanour to the TV cameras is no act, but away from the media, there is also the workaholic who rarely switches off. Even the drive home from work can be absorbed by tactical discussion — Lampard shares the commute to his apartment in Cheshire with one of his assistants, Chris Jones, who lives nearby.
There is also something many of his players tap into — an overwhelming enthusiasm. As the 43-year-old said in Friday’s press conference, even amid all the difficulties, he is still loving his job at Everton. There is no jaded cynicism or self-pity about the preceding circumstances that led this historic club to the precipice.
It remains to be seen whether everything Lampard and his staff can give is enough.
Yet the Londoner is leaving nothing to chance as he tries — from learning how to be pragmatic, sparring with refereeing officials or finding ways to get inside the heads of key players.
Here is how he’s doing it.
For some insiders, Everton’s biggest mistake of the season was not parting ways with Benitez sooner.
Lampard inherited what one source close to the dressing room described as almost a “broken squad” bearing the consequences of a tumultuous couple of months. It was noted how things had “unravelled spectacularly” since Benitez’s appointment.
Confidence was on the floor, key players such as Lucas Digne and James Rodriguez had been sold, and the squad had been ravaged by injuries.
This is the job Lampard inherited. A dressing room on its knees and a club structurally break following a series of high-profile departures.
The former Derby County and Chelsea manager’s arrival was largely viewed then as a breath of fresh air. It precipitated a change in mood behind the scenes from the sombre atmosphere at the end of Benitez’s tenure to something more upbeat.
This is not unusual when there is a change of manager at a club, but Everton’s players felt like they had been handed back responsibility after months of risk-averse football and effectively being told they were not good enough.
After months of not being trusted, this was a new start, seemingly, for them too.
Lampard benefitted — both in the eyes of players and supporters — from just not being Benitez. The messages in training were positive as part of an attempt to lift the mood, and there was a feeling that sessions were enjoyable again and of high quality.
Lampard and his staff were respected because of their status in the game, with what they had achieved as players and coaches.
It was a picture to prompt a smile amid the stress.
Coach and player taking a moment, sat together on the training pitch sharing a conversation in the spring sunshine.
Communication is 🔑 pic.twitter.com/kyKpVGwyqR
— Everton (@Everton) April 28, 2022
Lampard’s chat with Anthony Gordon has been typical of his hands-on approach to the 21-year-old’s development since taking over. He had identified Gordon as a key talent before taking the job and quickly had that feeling reinforced by early training sessions and performances from the winger.
The relative youth of Lampard and his staff — assistant manager Joe Edwards is 35 and has a background in academy football — means Gordon has things in common with them. He came through the ranks at youth level with Everton and England and has found a natural affinity with the easy-going Edwards.
The coaching team have been delighted with Gordon’s enthusiasm, trying to make it infectious for the whole squad. In that way, Lampard has been demanding when it comes to standards in training.
None of the current squad can be said to have been 100 per cent the manager’s signings. Donny van de Beek’s loan move from Manchester United was almost done by the time he was appointed. Dele Alli’s transfer was presented to him as something favored by key figures at the top of the club’s hierarchy, and Lampard agreed he might be able to revive the former Tottenham player’s talent.
He has intervened to remind Dele of the intensity required in training when he did not see enough, and has been rewarded with incremental signs — a pre-assist against Leicester and a lively cameo against Liverpool — that the player is raising his game.
He can be uncompromising when necessary, but Lampard isn’t a ranter. Even if he has displayed his passion in abundance from the dugout, he is calm in the dressing room and a clear communicator.
Training is different from under Benitez. It is less stop-start and focused on team shape. There are more possession-based drills and small-sided games. Players prefer the new approach, even if Lampard does not neglect the tactical side of the game as he tries to strike the right balance.
Edwards and Paul Clement are key. The former Swansea City manager does most of the set-piece work while Edwards leads sessions and gives feedback to players.
Everton have used their manager’s star-studded pedigree. There have been meetings with youngsters as they attempt to sign the most promising prospects on new deals. Everton have also referenced Edwards’ development experience in negotiations. With him there, there is a feeling that the club’s football provision for young players is better now than it was even six months ago.
Lampard has quickly established a strong working relationship with director of football Kevin Thelwell. Their offices are directly opposite and there is plenty of face-to-face dialogue between them, with frequent chats across the corridor. Their developing rapport should help avoid the dysfunction and damaging rifts that developed between previous incumbents of both roles such as Steve Walsh and Ronald Koeman, and Marcel Brands and Benitez.
Helpfully for Lampard, a tracksuit manager who is hands-on during training sessions, his office overlooks the first-team training pitch at Finch Farm. For that, he has his predecessor Benitez to thank. Upon his arrival in the summer, the Spaniard was baffled to realise that Brands’ office overlooked the pitches while the manager’s view was a car park. He insisted they be swapped, something that possibly did not get his relationship with Brands off to a strong start, but made operational sense.
Lampard has been supportive of Thelwell’s insistence that the club get the very best candidates they can for the key roles of academy director and under-23s coach. Both were privately surprised that David Unsworth combined the jobs, considering the scope and responsibility involved.
The pair’s intertwined success will be important for Everton on various levels. Each was viewed as a “board appointment” in the sense they were chosen by Bill Kenwright, Denise Barrett-Baxendale and others rather than being installed arbitrarily by Farhad Moshiri in the manner of Sam Allardyce and Benitez.
There is a feeling within the club that if Lampard and Thelwell make positive progress it could encourage Moshiri, who is believed to have acknowledged some past mistakes, to allow the board to take more key decisions in the future.
Lampard arrived with Everton four points clear of the relegation zone and in 16th place. But by kick-off on Sunday, there is a decent chance they will be five points off the pace in the battle for survival.
His arrival has not yet proved to be catalytic in the way Eddie Howe’s has been for Newcastle or even Sean Dyche’s sacking at Burnley. Everton are 18th in the form table since Lampard arrived, with Newcastle second over the same period and fellow relegation contenders Burnley sixth.
There has been a marginal improvement in results compared to the end of Benitez’s reign. Where the Spaniard took just five points from his last 11 league matches in charge, Lampard has 10 from the first 33 on offer, not including cup wins against Brentford and Boreham Wood.
But it has not been enough to stop Everton from dropping into the relegation zone and the “new manager bounce” has had a minimal impact on results. Lampard has been unable to turn around their poor away form, where they have won just once all season. In fact, he is yet to earn a point on the road.
Instilling his side with the grit needed to grind out results remains one of his biggest challenges.
There is a clear sense that, as a young manager, he is still learning on the job. Mistakes have been made tactically, particularly away from home, with a naive high line exploited ruthlessly by Tottenham in a 5-0 defeat. They also lost 3-1 at Newcastle, 2-0 against Southampton and 4-0 in the cup at Crystal Palace. Results were poor and the underlying numbers were not much better.
As can be seen below, their expected goals (xG) for and against continue to trend in the wrong directions.
It was felt by some insiders that Everton had been too easy to play through. It is understood that players have lacked conviction that there was enough firepower in the ranks to get back into games after conceding first.
More recently, Lampard’s response has been to adapt his approach. He has spoken about putting stylistic evolution on hold for now and prioritising the basics in the fight for survival.
The below graphic shows Everton’s PPDA (passes per defensive action) during his tenure and indeed the last couple of seasons as a whole. PPDA is a proxy of pressing intensity at the team level, used to try and capture the degree to which an opponent is pressing the opposition when they don’t have the ball.
Put simply, this metric counts how many passes a team allows the opposition to make before attempting to win the ball back with a defensive action, such as a tackle, interception, or clearance.
After an initial spike coinciding with Lampard’s arrival, Everton’s pressing intensity has steadily fallen back to a level comparable with the end of Benitez’s time. In recent games against Liverpool, Manchester United and Leice, his side have been far more speculative.
It may not be the way he ultimately wants to play at Goodison, but for now, he seems to have accepted it is the best way forward in the fight for survival.
A lot hinges on the final six games. There was a sense during January’s search for a new manager that Everton were hedging their bets, raising the prospect of breaking clauses with candidates in case they wanted to reassess over the summer.
“I don’t want to get drawn on that question, but what I will say is I’ve loved every minute at this club,” Lampard said when asked on Friday about his future.
“I’ve been welcomed incredibly well by fans. I will give it everything for as long as Everton want me here.”
The hard work behind the scenes continues ahead of a potentially make or break period for both Everton and their manager.
Lampard and his staff will hope the painstaking search for marginal gains eventually pays off handsomely.
(Top photo: Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images)