Timing is everything, especially for strikers. When to run. When to jump. When to shoot. When to take an extra touch. Get a couple of these things right and you stand a chance of doing well; get all of them right and you could be as good as Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
That may be stretching it, but what’s for sure is that Calvert-Lewin is doing a lot of right things at the right moment right now, making him one of the most in-form players in the country and, in turn, a near certainty to be selected by Gareth Southgate for the England squad for the friendlies with Italy and Denmark at the end of this month. Cover is needed for the injured Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, and Southgate’s presence at Goodison Park last Sunday for Everton’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United suggests he sees Calvert-Lewin as the next man in. If so, he would have been satisfied with seeing the 22-year-old score his fifth goal in six games and 15th in all competitions this season.
Calvert-Lewin’s general performance was excellent too, full of hard running and hard work, and he can be relied on to show the same level of dedication when Everton take on Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. Because dedication is something Calvert-Lewin has consistently displayed during his time on Merseyside and what makes his rise to prominence noteworthy.
Since joining Everton from Sheffield United in August 2016, Calvert-Lewin has played under six managers: Ronald Koeman, David Unsworth, Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva, Duncan Ferguson and, as of December, Carlo Ancelotti. It is a bewildering state of affairs reflecting a tumultuous period in the club’s history and one that could easily throw a player in their developmental years off course. But Calvert-Lewin has coped.
Early on that meant self-sacrifice, as someone signed by Everton to score goals found himself doing a lot of off-the-ball work to ensure others, namely Romelu Lukaku, could do so themselves. At one stage that meant playing as a wing-back and, while some might have sulked, Calvert-Lewin did what was asked of him while also contributing goals: eight in the 2017-18 season, and the same the following campaign. That, however, hardened the view that this was a player who had reached his ceiling. Hard-working and versatile but simply not potent enough to fill the Lukaku-shaped hole left by the Belgian’s departure for Manchester United in 2017.
Again Calvert-Lewin could have sulked but instead he did what was asked, displaying enthusiasm as well as dedication, and this season it has paid off as he finds himself central, literally as well as figuratively, to Everton’s upturn in form. Operating alongside Richarlison in a 4-4-2, Calvert-Lewin has scored once in five of Everton’s last six games. Few would bet against him adding to his tally at Stamford Bridge.
Calvert-Lewin’s shot conversion rate has declined over the past 12 months, from 20.8% to 20.3%. But that can be put down to the natural wastage that occurs from playing more and doing more; 1,836 minutes in the Premier League this season compared with 1,000 at the same stage of the previous campaign, leading to 40 more shots on goal. Crucially Calvert-Lewin’s goal return has shot up, from five to 13, and what is particularly impressive is the range of goals he is scoring. The past five alone have included an instinctive close-range header against West Ham, a sweeping left-foot finish against Newcastle, an opportunistic charge-down against United and, before that, a stunning overhead kick against Arsenal.
“Dom still needs to improve but it feels now that he has the raw materials to become a consistently good top-level forward,” says Matt Jones, host of The Blue Room podcast. “He works hard, holds the ball up well and is deceptively quick. He’s also got a ridiculous leap. It’s Tim Cahill-esque.”
Calvert-Lewin’s heading ability is undeniably impressive and one cannot help but wonder how important Ferguson has been in helping him hone that skill. What’s for sure is that Everton’s former No 9 had a positive impact on the club’s current one by pairing him with Richarlison during his spell as caretaker manager. It proved an instant hit and has not only been maintained by Ancelotti but hailed by the Italian as the key reason for Everton’s improvement under him. “They dovetail really well,” Jones says, “and there’s a sense among Evertonians that if one doesn’t get you the other will.”
There is still some way for Calvert-Lewin to go, especially if he is to fulfil Ancelotti’s assertion that he can become one of the top strikers in Europe, but his progress is undeniable, leading to the offer of a long-term contract until 2025, which he duly signed on Friday. His upturn has also saved Everton the need to buy a new forward – that replacement for Lukaku – in the summer.
It should also lead to Calvert-Lewin representing his country. He faces competition from Danny Ings, another English striker in excellent form, but given Southgate’s belief in creating a pathway from youth to senior level it is likely he has the Everton player foremost in his mind. Calvert-Lewin has seven goals in 17 appearances for the under-21s and scored the only goal of the game when England won the Under-20 World Cup final three years ago.
Should Calvert-Lewin impress he could also find himself in the reckoning for a place in England’s squad for Euro 2020, making his timing especially good right now.