Frank Lampard is preparing Everton to tackle their closing eight Premier League games “head on” – with the manager anticipating a survival fight deep into the campaign.
Everton have an opportunity to pull six points clear of 18th-placed Burnley when Leicester City visit Goodison Park on Wednesday.
An invaluable victory over Manchester United 10 days ago, coupled with key performers recovering fitness, is responsible for renewed optimism around the Club.
Lampard underlined the upbeat mood when acknowledging he’s “in the best position I’ve been” since his appointment on the last day of January.
The former Chelsea boss is far too experienced to get carried away off the back of one win, however, and Lampard’s positive talk was matched with a large dose of realism over his side’s task in the next five weeks.
More immediately, Chelsea are the next Goodison opponents after Leicester, with those two home fixtures sandwiched by an Anfield Merseyside derby date on Sunday.
“We’ll approach the games with a huge amount of focus and understanding that Leicester, Liverpool and Chelsea are great opposition,” said Lampard, who has won five of seven home matches and two successive Goodison Premier League fixtures.
“It is a tough run of games – but at this stage of the season, it is easy to over-analyse the opposition.
“We must focus on ourselves and go game by game and we will tackle it [run-in] head on.
“I am in the best position I’ve been, in terms of selecting from a squad that has players back fit.
“At Goodison, we want to continue our good form and run of results.
“We always get a helping hand from our fans, who give us huge support.
“It is important we tap into that, give the crowd something to get behind and continue with the level of performance.
“The next games are tough on paper, we play two of the top three and know the form they’re in. After those matches, it looks slightly different.
“We have to stay consistent in our thoughts, we have eight more games and this may go to the end of the season, that is the reality.
“We have to work week to week and tackle every game in front of us.”
The topic of mentality inevitably surfaced time and again as Lampard spoke in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
There is “no substitute” for winning as a means of generating confidence and momentum, acknowledged Lampard.
By extension, the atmosphere on the training ground has been “good” following a “fantastic result” against United, as Lampard profited from a first unbroken period with the majority of his squad.
Lampard additionally insisted, however, that his players have routinely demonstrated the courage and appetite to respond to setbacks.
And the Everton boss reckons character is a commodity as valuable as ability in a high-profile survival fight.
“The mental aspect is huge at this stage because the pressure ramps up and we need to deal with that,” said Lampard, who cited the “priceless experience and quality” of fit-again midfielder Fabian Delph, instrumental to the United victory, as a substantial pick-me-up for his squad.
“We have strong players in contention to play who I’ve not really been able to work with since I’ve been here.
“We need the quality on the pitch and the mental strength to get through the games.
“The mood, generally, has been very positive since I’ve been here.
“Sometimes, the feeling outside isn’t so positive, off the back of results, and I understand that.
“As much as that [adverse results] can have an effect on atmosphere, it hasn’t so much. The players have always bounced back.
“It is important to have that mentality over the next eight games.
“We don’t need to win eight games to stay in this league, we need to gain a certain number of points and stay very resilient in that period.”
Everton won their past two home games – frantic contests with Newcastle United and Manchester United – by single-goal margins.
And the pragmatist in Lampard is content to forgo manicured performances for results in the current circumstances.
He was prepared to “park the things we could have done better” against Manchester United, for example.
But the perfectionist in the driven and highly-decorated Everton boss wants positive displays at the front end of the pitch converted into more goals, while the “game management” employed to achieve clean sheets in those recent wins is viewed as a foundation for further successes.
And both major aspects of the game – keeping the ball out of your own net and putting it in the other one – will be difficult against Leicester.
In his one full season in charge of Chelsea in 2019/20, Lampard resisted Leicester’s challenge for the final Champions League spot.
He is acutely aware, then, of his midweek opponents’ potential, regardless of a weekend defeat by Newcastle, where Leicester made sweeping changes following a European win at PSV Eindhoven.
“Players who didn’t start [at Newcastle] will probably will start this game,” said Lampard.
“The have a really strong squad and I don’t think it [Newcastle result] will affect this game.
“I have battled with them for a Champions League place and it was tough because of their quality.
“They have players of a high level who can really cause us problems, so we have to be aware of their threats.
“Our belief comes through work and the understanding of what got us two clean sheets – and how we need to defend as a unit.
“We have done it very well at Goodison Park and when we defend well, we play well and have a good chance of winning games.”