Everton manager Frank Lampard hopes Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s latest injury will keep him out for “weeks” rather than months as he prepares to face his former club Chelsea on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, live on Sky Sports.
Striker Calvert-Lewin only appeared in 17 Premier League games last season, scoring the winning goal against Crystal Palace in the final home fixture at Goodison Park to ensure survival.
“He’s had an injury in training,” Lampard told Sky Sports. “It was a bit of a freak injury in a really simple passing action.
“He felt a little bit of an issue with the outside of his knee but we’re assessing it at the moment so I’m not here to give you an absolute time frame on when he’ll be back.
“I have read some reports of rumours and people just guessing the injury and the length of time, but we don’t know. We’re hoping it’s weeks at the moment, but we don’t yet know that information.
“He’ll certainly be missing for the Chelsea game and probably the games succeeding that in the short term but hopefully it won’t be too long. It’s your job, and you have to get on with these things when they happen. We’ve looked at different solutions without giving too much away.
“We have different attacking players and different systems, different ways we can play so we’ll take that into account going into the game.”
Can Alli step up as false nine?
With Salomon Rondon suspended following his red card in the defeat to Brentford towards the end of last season, Everton could be without a recognised centre-forward in the Saturday Night Football encounter with Chelsea.
Dele Alli scored twice during a friendly win over Blackpool last month and the former Tottenham midfielder is someone who could operate as a false nine in Calvert-Lewin’s absence.
Alli has made just one start since his move from Spurs on deadline day in January, but his cameo off the bench in the decisive 3-2 win over Palace was viewed as integral to maintaining Everton’s top-flight status. The challenge now is for the player to kick on.
“I hope he has an important role to play,” Lampard said of Alli’s season ahead. “He had a great impact for a half against Palace and he was very important in terms of turning the game around, but now we’re looking for consistency.
“That means in training, getting into the best condition, and showing himself to be able to start games. We’re now in a more stable condition as a club than the intense environment than we were at the back end of last season.
“Dele is here to help us on a more consistent basis and it’s in his hands to show when opportunities come, he can take them. We saw in his performance against Palace what he can do. It’s one for me and for him – we’re all pulling in the same direction, and I hope he can have a good season for us.”
‘Pickford my captain when Coleman is unavailable’
Seamus Coleman demonstrated his leadership qualities on and off the field during Everton’s escape last term, but the experienced Republic of Ireland international was not always available for selection due to persistent injuries.
Coleman turns 34 in October and Nathan Patterson has been featuring prominently in pre-season as the club captain nurses a groin issue.
It means Lampard has turned to Jordan Pickford with the armband during this summer’s friendlies, and the goalkeeper is set to retain those responsibilities in Coleman’s absence this season.
“At the moment it’s Jordan Pickford,” Lampard revealed. “Tarkowski has come in and shown himself to be a leader straightaway, but I think if I put an armband or not on James Tarkowski, he’s going to be a leader on the pitch and every day on the training ground.
“Jordan Pickford is England’s No 1. He’s played at an extremely high level for a long time. Sometimes, he’s not quite got the credit that he deserves, but he got the credit last year because of his performances and how in-your-face they were.
“I’ve seen him mature as a player even in the short time I’ve been here through the confidence in the way he’s playing. I’ve got no problems with Jordan being captain, and that’s why he’s been captain at times during pre-season. We’ll see how that one pans out, but I’m not massively concerned on that point.
“Seamus will always be club captain as long as he is an Everton player. After that, the most important thing is you have other captains in the squad and in the team around Seamus. That’s what we’re trying to build here.”
‘Impact of new signings already noticeable’
Lampard still has work to do to convince the fanbase of his capabilities, but the majority want him to succeed and feel he has left an instant impression.
Things can surely only get better for Everton this season after a wretched campaign that saw Lampard, having replaced Rafael Benitez in January, just about manage to steer them away from an almost unthinkable relegation.
The World Cup in Qatar this November means the close season has been somewhat curtailed, but ahead of a condensed nine months ahead, Lampard is looking forward to embarking on his first full campaign on Merseyside.
“I’m ready to go,” he added. “It would’ve been nice if we’d had a bit more of a break as we had a pretty intense end to last season. It was nice for everyone, the fans and ourselves, to have a bit of a break.
“I think we’re all excited now for the start of the season but for me it’s a great opportunity to really make a start having come in during the middle of last season.
“Pre-season has allowed me to get to know the players and the club a bit more and to understand where the squad is at. I’m certainly happy with the players that we’ve brought in. In James [Tarkowski], Dwight [McNeil] and Ruben [Vinagre], we have in different ways had players who’ve added to the squad which is what you want.
“They can all make an impact and it’s already been noticeable. Dwight, on his debut, and Ruben [a 3-0 friendly win over Dynamo Kyiv] played a good part. They’ve only just come in, but they’ve settled really quickly.
“James has shown all his qualities through pre-season on and off the pitch which is great, and we’re still looking at areas to improve.
“The window going into the season makes it challenging in various ways. It’s not easy getting deals done when there are still weeks to go. People are waiting and looking and seeing.
“We have ideas about where we want to improve and if we can see that we can make improvements to the squad then we’ll look to do that.”
‘Richarlison showed what it means to play for Everton’
Calvert-Lewin will hope to rediscover some form once he is back fit while a replacement is required for Richarlison after he departed to Tottenham. Lampard acknowledges how difficult it will be to replace Brazilian, but he is looking at multiple solutions.
“We want to move forward, but we also have to be realists,” he continued. “There were reasons why we were in the position I came into at the club, and we managed to stay in the Premier League.
“We’ve lost Richarlison since then so we’re in a position now where we’re trying to bring in players. When you lose a player of that importance at the top end of the pitch, you have to look at it.
“If the squad looked slightly imbalanced, then you also have to look at those areas. We don’t have to find a like-for-like replacement for Richy. He was quite a unique player for us. He wore his heart on his sleeve and the fans certainly appreciated that as well.
“It’s the one thing that I’d want players coming to this club to have… that desire to play for this club. Richy left on the best possible terms that you can when you think of what he gave the club.
“In footballing terms, we can find other ways and other solutions in attacking areas which we’re looking at. Dwight McNeil was a very different type of player that will add a different threat for us.
“We’re looking at still strengthening this area of the pitch as well as other areas. In midfield, we’ve lost players from last season. Fabian Delph was really crucial in five or six games towards the back end when we got massive results.
“He gave us positional discipline, experience and nous, so there are many areas we’re still looking at.”
‘Five-sub rule will keep everyone involved’
Manchester United’s Dean Henderson, on loan at Nottingham Forest, made a scathing assessment this week of his “criminal” season at Old Trafford last year, in which he was promised the No 1 jersey only to fail to make a single Premier League appearance under either Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Ralf Rangnick.
It highlighted the challenge facing managers to keep every member of their squad happy. With the five-sub rule being implemented for the first time in the Premier League, Lampard believes it will help keep all members of his playing staff involved.
“I agree with the rule, and I think it’s probably a small benefit for the teams at the top end of the table as they can stack their squads up with players, not necessarily of a high level but who have squads full of internationals.
“From a day-to-day perspective, in your job as a coach, you work with 20-or-so players and you want them all involved come the weekend. It’s what their work should deserve.
“Then you have more options to make more decisions using your bench come the matchday to affect the game. For the brand that is the Premier League, I feel it’s a positive thing and we’ll have to try and make the best out of it.
“There’s a fine balance as when you build your squad every summer, you want a happy camp, one that is determined and working in the same direction.
“I was once a player, so when you go to work all week, you work in order to play at the weekend. If you’re squad is too big, you have those problems – I’ve felt those and know them very well.
“But you also have to understand that it’s a tough and difficult season in the Premier League with lots of challenges and you have to have cover in different positions.
“The modern player must be more accepting that they may not play every minute but they have to be a great team-mate.
“Those things are important, and as much as you need to look at how your squad looks when you’re recruiting and feels in a football sense, you need to strike the right balance in terms of players who don’t always play still being really important in terms of their attitude every single day.”
Lampard prioritising aggressive approach over set system
Lampard’s preference is to use a four-man defence but the make-up of his squad appears to be dictating which system he will deploy heading into the new campaign.
The 4-0 defeat to Minnesota United – in which Everton trailed 3-0 at the break – was dismissed by Lampard as demonstrating why the use of a 4-3-3 formation could not work, but the manager acknowledges there must be a balance between allowing his preferred way of playing to express itself and the need for results.
“I like flexibility in my system,” Lampard said. “I feel it can be a strength but with my time here so far, in pre-season and in the run-in last season, it’s been more about what the best system is for us with the players that we have.
“It’s important that you try those things out, and it doesn’t then mean we have to come away from 4-3-3 because of what happened in Minnesota in a game that came two weeks into training and where the lads had worked very hard the day before that game.
“It’s been and gone, but we have to understand as the manager and part of the coaching set-up that sometimes you have to compromise in order to get the best system for the players you have fit and available.
“When you’re building the squad and you’re trying to improve it, I’m trying to bring in players with a view to being flexible. The idea has to stay the same, however. It has to be an Everton team for me that’s aggressive and has a big energy to it.
“That’s important whether you play a four or three at the back. It’s what I’ll demand anyway. I want a team that can be playing more through the lines than we did at the back end of last season when we had to be very simple in how we played because of where the squad was at and the players we had available.
“While I do want us to be flexible, I’d like us to find a consistency within that which is the most important thing.”
‘We must show we’re above another relegation battle’
After the Palace result, Lampard declared keeping Everton in the Premier League as “one of the greatest moments of my footballing life and career” – ranking it alongside his plethora of achievements with Chelsea.
The fans played a significant part in helping galvanise the side during their successful battle to stave off relegation.
That bond forged with supporters is something Lampard highlighted once more as he prepares to lock horns with his former club at the start of a brand new season.
“When you live here and work here, I understand what it means to the fans,” said Lampard.
“I feel they have a real understanding of where we’re at and the fact that we want to make small steps in a positive direction so that hopefully we’re not in a relegation battle again.
“But this is the Premier League so we have to make sure we get ourselves right. That starts with me and with us working every day, how can we improve the team, how can we improve small details to make us work in a better direction as a club.
“The important thing is that everyone is working in that direction. When it comes to expectations for us this year, I keep hearing and reading that we’re going to be in and around the relegation battle and that we’re in for a fight, but it’s up to us as a club in many ways to show that it’s not going to be the case.
“The proof of that will only be in the results. That’s why we’re working so hard on the training pitch and trying to improve the squad in any way we can.”
Everton have not lost on the opening weekend of a Premier League season in 10 years and they have enjoyed playing against Chelsea at Goodison Park in recent times, winning each of the past four encounters and nine of the last 13 home games.
In front of a partisan, packed Goodison Park this Saturday night – even in Calvert-Lewin’s absence – Lampard will do everything in his power to extend that fine record.
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