Everton go into the Merseyside derby in desperate need of a win

Everton have made their worst start to a Premier League season for more than a decade. The last time they failed to win any of their first five games, in 2010-11, David Moyes was their manager and Mikel Arteta was at the heart of their midfield. Frank Lampard’s side have just three points on the board as they prepare to welcome Liverpool to Goodison Park on Saturday. After narrowly avoiding relegation last season, all signs point towards another slog.

After his former Chelsea and England teammate Scott Parker was sacked by Bournemouth – having won one of his four games at the start of the season – Lampard will be clinging to any positives from such a turbulent run. To Everton’s credit, they defended well as a team in their 1-1 draw at Elland Road on Tuesday night. The performance was full of grit and determination.

Amadou Onana, the 21-year-old midfielder who joined the club from Lille this summer, played a key role as a disruptor, and Everton generally protected their penalty box well, with the experience and leadership of new arrivals Conor Coady and James Tarkowski at the heart of their defence. Dwight McNeil also tracked back well to help Nathan Patterson double up on the in-form Jack Harrison.

When things are not going your way, it’s vital to at least carry out the basics. Everton have conceded more than once in only one of their first five matches and they have shipped fewer league goals than Chelsea. However, a closer look at the data paints a worrying picture for Lampard. They have scored only four goals and, aside from facing Chelsea on the opening weekend, none of their subsequent four opponents finished in the top half of the table last season. But in their next six matches they face Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham, so what happens when the basics aren’t enough?

Everton’s defenders have expended a lot of energy this season already, as their midfield is not capable of controlling possession. A move for the Manchester United midfielder James Garner is therefore logical. Everton have conceded in the final 10 minutes in three of their past four league games. If you keep knocking on the Everton door, eventually it will open. Everton are averaging only 40% possession in matches this season and their pass success rate is just 75.5% – both among the bottom three returns in the division. Against Leeds, two of Everton’s three midfielders finished the match with pass success rates below 70%.

The loss of Richarlison in attack is naturally still being felt by Everton. The Brazilian had a direct hand in 35% of Everton’s league goals last season. They signed McNeil from Burnley to replace Richarlison but he hasn’t scored in the Premier League since March 2021, when he was on target against Everton of all teams. The club are on to their third manager since then. McNeil has not found the back of the net from any of his last 65 shots. So far for Everton he has proved a better defender than attacker, with more tackles completed (14) than shots and key passes combined (eight).

Lampard would have hoped Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s injury woes would be behind him now, but the England international is yet to feature this season. He hasn’t started four Premier League games in a row since the end of the 2020-21 campaign. At one point in the summer it seemed Lampard would also lose Anthony Gordon. The 21-year-old had a promising breakout campaign last year, prompting Chelsea to make a £45m bid for him.

Chelsea are apparently prepared to pay £60m for the winger. In normal circumstances, Everton would be keen to cash in, but losing Gordon this summer could be catastrophic for their hopes of surviving in the Premier League. Through no fault of his own, he now has the weight of a club on his shoulders. Players do not determine their price, but have to live with it. The England Under-21 international is not a £60m player, but will now be treated as one. He scored four league goals last season and three of those required a deflection. To his credit, he has now scored in back-to-back games.

Gordon has been responsible for 48% of Everton’s shots on target in the Premier League this season, pointing to a huge over-reliance on him going forward. With Calvert-Lewin unavailable and Salomón Rondón out of favour, Everton hijacked Fulham’s move to sign Neal Maupay from Brighton and he will most likely make his debut on Saturday. The 26-year-old will provide industry up front but he will not replace the goals scored by Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. Maupay scored only 26 goals from 228 shots for Brighton in the Premier League and he converted only 18 of his 44 clear-cut chances in that time.

Everton have not beaten Liverpool at Goodison Park for nearly 12 years but there is one positive omen for Lampard. That victory came early in the 2010-11 season, the last time they failed to win any of their first five fixtures. Goals from Tim Cahill and Arteta gave Moyes a vital victory and left Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool in the relegation zone.

Lampard desperately needs a repeat this weekend. Having failed to take advantage of accommodating opening fixtures, he could find that the pressure ramps up in the coming weeks. Keeping the support of the fans will determine the future of Lampard and his team in this division, as they have won only one of their last 20 games on the road in the top flight.