Frank Lampard is urging his attacking players to be “killers in the box” as he calls on them to fire Everton to Premier League safety.
Everton have taken 11 points from the last six games and pulled out of the relegation zone. Should results go their way they could confirm survival against Brentford on Sunday afternoon.
Goals have still been hard to come by, however, with the 0-0 draw at relegated Watford highlighting the side’s lack of firepower. Speaking as the Blues head into the final week of the season, Demarai Gray explained what Lampard and his coaching staff were doing to try and fix that.
Gray, who started the season in blistering form and whose five goals include the stunning late strike that delivered a vital win against Arsenal earlier in the campaign, praised Lampard for the impact his arrival in late January has had on the club.
He said: “When things need to be corrected or addressed, he addresses them well, as a coach needs to do. His man-management and getting instructions across to the team and giving us a gameplan… although it’s difficult in this situation to install a proper gameplan because we’re fighting at the minute, what he’s given us has been good. He’s got everybody on board and the results over the last month and the change in attitude and performance have been pretty obvious.”
Gray was signed by Rafa Benitez in the summer, his return to the Premier League from German side Bayer Leverkusen sealed in a deal that turned out to be the only fee paid by Everton over the summer. He praised Leverkusen as a “great club” but said the chance to sign for the Blues was an opportunity he simply “could not turn down”.
That he felt so valued by the club’s desire to sign him underpinned his immediate impact: “Obviously coming back from Germany was difficult. It was a good experience but it was difficult. And when I say difficult it was more off the pitch, with Covid and not being able to have my family over.
“Premier League football is the level everyone wants to play at throughout their career. Being at Leicester for so long before that then going away for a bit, [gave me] kind of an understanding of how much I do want to be a Premier League player. I got the opportunity to be able to come back after six months and it was a thing where I had to grab it. Rafa brought me in and I knew he’d been aware of me for a while so he gave me that feel of value and want. He did good for my confidence as well. I think the start of the season was some of the best football of my career, obviously it comes with age and development and stuff like that. How I started the season, there are few games left now but I have to finish that way and help the team get goals and points.”
Gray suffered an injury setback when Lampard arrived but has fought his way into the first team – partly due to open communication about how best to secure his involvement. He said: “When he came in I played one game and then got injured, which was a bit frustrating because you want to impress a new manager and stuff like that. It’s taken me a bit of time to get back to full speed and he’s had one or two conversations with me and kept the faith and I think my performance has been coming back to its usual self. I’m grateful for that and I think for any player it’s important to have the feeling that the manager backs you and supports you. It’s been good.”
Lampard has focused on making Everton hard to beat in recent weeks and Gray is pleased with the way he has been able to help the team. He said: “I think the Chelsea game was one where I analyzed my performance and I’m an attacking player but there were so many tackles and [so much] throwing my body in front of the ball and it’s not actually my game. It’s been more of a character-building season, understanding fighting for your team.
“Obviously my game is to score goals and I had a chance against Chelsea and should have scored, it’s a bit frustrating because every goal is important at the minute. It’ll eat me up for a day or two goal, at the end of the day, I’m in those positions and I’ll keep getting in those positions and over the next few games it’s got to come. Hopefully the three points can come after it as well.”
Aware of the value adding goals to his game in the final week of the season could be, Gray said Lampard was providing his own insight into how his players can be more ruthless.
He said: “Whenever we’re doing passive drills and shape work, even though it’s unopposed he tells us to be killers in the box. You train how you play, so we’re all at it and we’ve just got to keep doing it. We’re getting opportunities so when the chances come we just have to put them away.”