It was the age-old debate which followed Frank Lampard around as a player. Could England’s golden generation cater for both him and Steven Gerrard in the same team?
Both with an eye for goal, both could spot a pass. Sven-Goran Eriksson was faced with such a dilemma during his time as England boss, before you mention the brilliance of Paul Scholes.
Eriksson decided on playing the trio with David Beckham across the middle – describing them as the “four best midfielders” in the country during an interview with Sky Sports in March 2020.
“I could not at this time put one of these on the bench. I pick because I was convinced these four were the best,” Eriksson said.
“I was convinced Gerrard and Lampard could play together. You could have put Gerrard on the left maybe, and put Scholes in the middle. But anyhow, this for me, and I still believe it now, was the best team at this time.”
The fact that nothing was won during this period was a major disappointment, and Lampard is now faced with a similar selection headache as he familiarises himself with his new squad at Everton.
It is the start of a new era as Lampard prepares to take charge for the first time in Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round tie against Brentford at Goodison Park. Owner Farhad Moshiri said of his sixth permanent appointment in as many years: “It’s the most important signing we can get in this window. I’m optimistic.”
But Lampard was one of three new faces to arrive on Merseyside on deadline day. Dele Alli signed a two-and-a-half-year contract as his seven-year stay at Tottenham came to an end in the final minutes of the transfer window.
Alli’s move came just hours after Everton had confirmed former Chelsea boss Lampard as Rafael Benitez’s successor. Lampard also secured the services of Donny van de Beek on deadline day, the Holland midfielder joining on loan from Manchester United for the remainder of the season.
Like Alli, who was a member of Gareth Southgate’s 2018 World Cup squad but has struggled under a succession of managers at Spurs in recent seasons and fallen out of the England reckoning, Van de Beek has failed to impress.
The 24-year-old joined United in a £35m move from Ajax in 2020 only to make just four Premier League starts for the Red Devils – but both Van de Beek and Alli now have the chance to reignite their respective careers.
Lampard’s first set of acquisitions are both cup-tied for the Brentford tie, however they will be available for the crucial Premier League encounter at Newcastle next Tuesday. We take a look at how and where both could be incorporated into Lampard’s new-look side.
How both can operate as double 10s
The Toffees are only four points above the relegation zone having won just once in the Premier League since the end of September. Only Newcastle (£93m) spent more than the potential £76m Everton agreed across the January transfer window, and this was in part down to being left short due to injuries in key positions.
Benitez failed to land a right-back in the summer window, and one of his final acts was to bring Nathan Patterson in as cover for Seamus Coleman in a £16m deal from Rangers. In signing Alli and Van de Beek, the club have also recognised how the team’s attacking output plummeted in the absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Signing two players with similar traits has generated plenty of talk on how both can be shoehorned into the same starting XI, and yet what Everton have lacked is depth when first-choice personnel have been on the treatment table.
Lampard has options. Gerrard has already shown how both Emi Buendia and Philippe Coutinho can both start in the same team, but Danny Ings has been sacrificed with Ollie Watkins the central striker.
The question, therefore, is can Everton select a team comprising of Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Alli and Van de Beek?
At Derby, Lampard put plenty of emphasis on his full-backs providing the width and operating high up – as seen when Ashley Cole featured for the Rams towards the end of his career. With Cole and Lampard set to be reunited, it is a possible route they look to explore once again at Everton.
That would negate the need for two natural wingers, but Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend have been among Everton’s more consistent performers this season and their arrivals under a previous regime were designed to provide ammunition for Calvert-Lewin’s aerial prowess.
Everton formation summary – Premier League, 2021/22
As Everton were knocked out of the Carabao Cup on penalties to QPR last September, it was noticeable the extent to which the team lacked depth when certain performers were afforded a rest. What the arrivals of Alli and Van de Beek have brought is competition across an underperforming attack.
Having the likes of Gray and Townsend as options off the bench to influence games is something that Everton have often lacked this term until now – and that is before you consider the likes of Anwar El Ghazi and Alex Iwobi.
Could Lampard play three at the back?
The Lampard factor has paid immediate dividends after his deadline-day unveiling and Everton should have enough quality to make their flirtation with the scrap at the bottom a short one.
But in spite of focusing on strengthening his midfield options, it could be that providing extra insurance at the back is the best way of allowing both Van de Beek and Alli to focus on their strengths – arriving late in the box.
By having an additional centre-back with one defensive pivot, this is one route to getting all four of Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Van de Beek and Alli into the side – but it will require a lot of discipline from Allan or Abdoulaye Doucoure in the anchor role.
What has been evident this term, however, is that both Doucoure and Allan are not natural defensive midfielders. Both have a tendency to get forward, which has left Everton’s defence exposed. It is why the club were reportedly interested in bringing Idrissa Gueye back from Paris Saint-Germain last month.
Everton’s defence has often performed better in a back three, as seen in the 1-1 draw at Chelsea in December – their most tactically disciplined performance under Benitez with nine senior players missing.
Ben Godfrey has struggled to kick on since his maiden season, but the former Norwich defender looks more comfortable alongside two other centre-halves when not forced to play at full-back. This is less likely now that Everton have strengthened on both flanks.
With Yerry Mina back from injury, having Godfrey as part of a back three that includes either Michael Keane or Mason Holgate can form a solid base from which the wing-backs can provide the width.
Alli and Van de Beek could then play with the shackles off, in between the lines and in support of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison – but it depends on the calibre of opposition and circumstances within a game.
Try to avoid playing in a 4-3-3
For both Alli and Van de Beek, games have passed them by especially when they have been played as one of a central-midfield three, forcing them to be more disciplined. Alli wasn’t even close to getting into England’s squad for last year’s European Championship.
Meanwhile, Van de Beek has 19 caps for the Netherlands but his last was as a second-half substitute in a 7-0 win against Gibraltar in March last year.
The 24-year-old missed out on Euro 2020 due to a groin injury, but he has been overlooked by head coach Louis van Gaal during the World Cup qualifying campaign due to his lack of playing time at Man Utd.
Ironically, former Everton midfielder Davy Klaassen has moved above him in the pecking order.
Klaassen was signed for £24m as one of three No 10s – along with Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson in June 2017 – but a combination of his pathway being blocked and below-par displays during just seven league appearance meant he was sold the following summer to Werder Bremen.
Both Van de Beek and Alli can recapture that happiness at Everton, where the fanbase is demanding and can get on top of players, both their team and the opposition.
Lampard might choose to play Alli just off lone striker Calvert-Lewin or as one of two attacking midfielders that includes Van de Beek – but using both in a midfield three wouldn’t be using either’s strengths.
Would 4-2-3-1 still leave Everton exposed?
This would be the ideal formation when confidence floods back into the team. Doucoure is still expected to be out until the end of February, but Everton have important games against sides in the bottom half of the table before then: Leeds visit Goodison Park on February 12 before a trip to face Southampton at St Mary’s the following weekend.
It begs the question: Will Van de Beek be used deeper alongside Allan as a short-term measure? The Dutchman flourished at Ajax in the No 10 role, but it may be that both he and Alli alternate in dropping deep into midfield as the other bursts forward.
This way, Richarlison would be utilised in a wider area – on the left, where he has often performed well. The issue here is that Gray is best used on the left. On the other flank, Gordon was moving ahead of Townsend as the first-choice right winger and will resume their healthy competition under Lampard.
Both Gordon and Townsend offer different strengths but the arrivals of Van de Beek and Alli certainly could compromise their chances of playing time if Lampard wants to find a way of playing both Richarlison and Gray.
Doucoure has failed to hit the same standards set at the start of the season even since fracturing his foot, but once the Frenchman is back from his groin issue, Lampard could then explore moving Van De Beek in the No 10 role to cater for Doucoure alongside Allan – and this could mean pushing Alli to a position tucked in on the right.
Revisit Alli’s early years under Poch
Alli played under four managers in his seven years at Spurs but virtually all of the midfielder’s standout moments came under Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentine’s time at Spurs ended in November 2019. And so, in a sense, did Alli’s.
In his parting message to Tottenham, Alli wrote: “I want to give a special mention to Mauricio and his staff for their trust and guidance in the early part of my career at Spurs, which gave me the platform to show what I can do.”
No mention of Jose Mourinho. Nor of Nuno Espirito Santo. Nor of Antonio Conte, the incumbent at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Lampard must get the best out of a player who had a key role in England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and, before that, had put up the kind of scoring numbers by the age of 21 that set him on course to be the country’s great hope.
Upon turning 21 in April 2017, Alli had either scored or assisted 40 goals in the Premier League, which was as many as Lampard (15), Steven Gerrard (13) and David Beckham (12) had combined at that age.
That is the kind of player Tottenham and England had on their hands. Someone who, in January 2016, scored one of the best-ever Premier League goals by flicking the ball over his head, spinning around his marker and burying a low volley from outside the area almost in one movement.
The following season, Alli scored 22 goals in 46 starts for Tottenham, mostly playing off Harry Kane to devastating effect and showcasing a rare ability at such a young age to time his runs into the area.
Alli has gone more than two years without a Premier League goal in open play. Lampard is the ideal man to get him back to his old numbers, and that can only happen through playing him and making him feel loved.
Since Conte arrived in early November, Alli started two league games. It has been said that maybe fame got his head. A couple of injuries certainly set him back, but Lampard was the consummate professional throughout his playing career.
He set the standard, and Alli has the ideal mentor to rediscover the spark that made him such a hard opponent for defences to pin down.
Lampard must prioritise attitude over formation
Crucially, Everton can now take games to their opponents – and not just adapt their team within games. Under Benitez, all too often, Everton conceded the first goal and were forced to chase points from losing positions.
The Spaniard was an unpopular appointment, but he was certainly right when it came to the team needing to apply the best attitude over any tactic or formation. It is the message he drove across to his players and the media in those early prosperous weeks.
Lampard has even more options if Plan A isn’t working, but finding the right balance from the first whistle is an exciting challenge that will define the early part of his reign.
Having recorded just one league win in 14 games, what deadline day brought was optimism back to supporters. For Everton, it was the strangest of transfer windows: five new players signed by two different managers.
Benitez added full-backs Patterson and Vitalii Mykolenko and wide forward El Ghazi, on loan from Aston Villa, before his mid-January departure.
While Lampard has much to prove after his time as Chelsea boss, as do Alli and Van De Beek after their recent struggles, Everton fans have reason to be far more optimistic than they were at the start of last month.