Aston Villa and Everton were both 16th in the standings when they appointed Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to shepherd their respective campaigns in 2021-22.
Gerrard, after a successful stint with Scottish side Rangers, was appointed 11 games into the season, replacing Dean Smith with Villa sat just two points above relegation zone after a run of five successive defeats. Lampard, who was sacked by Chelsea in January 2021, replaced Rafa Benitez towards the end of the winter transfer window with Toffees having won just one of their last 14 matches.
It was a topsy-turvy ride for both. Five wins and one draw in his first 10 games helped Gerrard keep Villa on course for a top-10 spot but six losses, three draws and just two wins in 11 matches at the end of the season meant they finished 14th. It was a meagre return for a club that had spent 116.84 million pounds on transfers.
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Everton were in a freefall when Lampard took over and the Toffees continued to slip managing a mere three wins in his first 10 games. But a late season surge which included wins over Chelsea, Leicester City and the most important one against Crystal Palace helped Everton end 16th. Everton played Palace in their penultimate match and came back from 0-2 to win 3-2.
One thing both had in their favour was fans’ support. Especially towards the end of the season the atmosphere at Goodison Park was electric and one of the key factors in seeing the team over the line.
A first pre-season in charge, without that pressure of relegation, has allowed them time to stamp their philosophy on the club, the players.
Villa managed to hold on to most of their first-choice players and strengthened their squad by making Philippe Coutinho’s loan deal from Barcelona permanent. They also signed Sevilla centre-back Diego Carlos and pulled off a coup of sorts by getting Boubacar Kamara from Marseille on a free. The Frenchman is considered as the best central midfielder in Europe at the moment and Gerrard said that Kamara rejected offers from Champions League clubs to join them.
“It’s about walking the walk now,” Gerrard was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
“It’s very difficult to gauge in pre-season whether you’ve improved or not from last season, but finishing 14th for Aston Villa wasn’t acceptable. I made that pretty clear to the players and we are looking for a better level of consistency, and we want to be operating in the top half of the table. We also want to have better cup runs. We need to give our fans more—we’re not going to shy away from that.”
It has been a tricky transfer window for Everton, who had to sell Richarlison to Tottenham to balance their books. It was contrary to the calls for more action in the transfer market by Lampard.
The only recognised face to have is James Tarkowski, a centre-back who was the backbone of Burnley’s defence before they were relegated last season, on a free transfe.
According to the bookies, Lampard will be the first manager to be sacked but the 44-year-old isn’t worried though.
“I don’t mind that. I’m not immune to hearing it. I know it’s there in certain places. If you come off a relegation battle and lose a player of high value to the team on the pitch (Richarlison) I think it’s understandable. It means nothing at the minute,” he said recently.
“Any trepidation from the outside is fine. For Evertonians, I would say: ‘Let’s see what we’re going to do’. And, when the window shuts, let’s see what it looks like. We need to be positive about where we can get.”
Since British-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri became a majority owner of Everton in 2016, the club have spent £560.58 million—seventh highest—in the transfer market but returns have been modest.
Their best finish was seventh in 2016-17. During that period, they have had some high-profile managers like Ronald Koeman and Carlo Ancellotti. Lampard is their eighth manager in six years.
In Jordan Pickford, Yerry Mina, Dele Alli, Andre Gomes and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton have proven performers. How Lampard gets the best out of them remains to be seen.
The season will be an opportunity for Gerrard and Lampard, the best English midfielders of their generation, to show that they have what it takes to last a Premier League campaign.