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Everton manager Frank Lampard says he understands why his team are being tipped for relegation, but has vowed to banish the pessimism engulfing Goodison Park ahead of Saturday's opener against Chelsea.
Everton narrowly avoided dropping into the Championship by winning their penultimate game of last season. Since then, Richarlison has been sold to Tottenham Hotspur and Dominic Calvert-Lewin is out injured so, with Salomon Rondon suspended, Lampard has no recognised striker.
Lampard says he must strengthen the squad before the transfer window closes after bringing in James Tarkowski and Dwight McNeil from Burnley and Ruben Vinagre on loan from Sporting Lisbon. But he says negative appraisals will serve as motivation.
“I don’t mind that, I know it’s there in certain places,” he said. “If you come off a relegation battle and you lose a player of high value to the team on the pitch, I think it’s understandable. What we have done is bring in three players I’m very happy with, but I understand when people say we’re probably going to be in a fight again. That’s no problem.
“Any trepidation from the outside is fine. For Evertonians, I would say, let’s see what we’re going to do. Let’s see how well we compete against Chelsea. And, when the window shuts, let’s see what it looks like.”
Despite the downbeat predictions of pundits – and the section of Everton fans engaged in protests against the Goodison board – Lampard believes his team can be a surprise package. He is trying to foster a sense of togetherness to recreate the spirit which kept the side up.
“If you look at a team like West Ham two years ago, they saved themselves from relegation and then two or three years later were in a European semi-final,” he said.
“There are lots of stories about differences you can make and the team in terms of how you work, in terms of the club as a whole, and in terms of the people you bring in being crucial to that. If we can improve the squad, it’s our duty to. So we must be positive.
“I have a good relationship with people above me and that is really important. I understand the responsibility and I feel like it is a good challenge and I am in a good place to do it. But I have to go out and do it.”