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Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Everton, 2016–

Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s ascent has been remarkable. Under the guidance of Carlo Ancelotti, whose arrival at Everton in December sparked the best run of form of his career, Calvert-Lewin has matured from a striker who did not regularly score goals into one of the Premier League’s most potent marksmen.

Before the 2019/20 season was interrupted in March, Calvert-Lewin was rewarded by his club with a new five-year contract. His form was also noted beyond Goodison Park, as a player whose goal proved decisive in the England Under-20 team’s World Cup win in 2017 came into contention for a place in the senior squad at Euro 2020.

“Dominic has all the attributes to become one of the best strikers in England and in Europe,” Ancelotti said. “He is fast, has good skills, is strong in the air and works extremely hard for the team. He also has a fantastic mentality, and his desire to improve has impressed me ever since I came to the club.”

Tactical analysis
It is testament to the range of Calvert-Lewin’s talents that he managed to establish himself as a centre-forward at an established Premier League team without posing a regular goal threat. Having failed to score a single goal in 11 League One appearances for his boyhood team, Sheffield United, he managed only 11 goals in 78 Premier League appearances in his first three seasons at Everton after Under-23 coach David Unsworth recommended his signing following their time together at Bramall Lane.

Yet when Ancelotti, one of the world’s most decorated managers, was appointed at the end of 2019 – just ahead of a January transfer window during which he might have provided an added lure to any prospective signings – the Italian instead looked no further than the present squad. In attack, he has stuck with a pairing of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison – despite the Englishman scoring a relatively modest five goals in 16 Premier League appearances before the managerial change.

What has followed is Calvert-Lewin’s best ever run in front of goal, with eight goals in 11 league games since Ancelotti’s arrival. That he has added an impressive goal return to his game means he is beginning to look an incredibly rounded striker. Having spent a significant portion of his developing years as a central midfielder, Calvert-Lewin possesses good close control, vision and passing – but it is his speed and aerial ability that have most enabled his development as a striker.

He is tall, possesses a powerful leap and times his jumps well, making him among the most effective players in the Premier League in the air. Of all those to make at least 10 Premier League starts in 2019/20, Calvert-Lewin ranks joint-seventh for aerials duels won – alongside no less a figure than Virgil van Dijk, on an average of 4.9 per game.

Given he is also comfortable with the ball on the floor – both coming deep and running in behind – he gives defenders much more than an aerial threat to consider. Few other centre-forwards possess such an extensive all-round threat.

Calvert-Lewin therefore offers an out ball of various types – he can provide flick-ons for a strike partner or supporting runners, pull out wide before running at defenders, withdraw to link play or stay on the shoulder of the last man, and look for balls in behind. He impresses in keeping defenders guessing with quick changes of direction, and out-then-in or in-then-out runs to find space.

Role at Everton
Playing up front with Richarlison in Ancelotti’s presently preferred 4-4-2 formation, Calvert-Lewin performs a number of different roles for his team. One of his most important is to provide a target for goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to aim for when Ancelotti wants his team to play more direct – or simply when the option to pass out from the back isn’t there. More than once under Ancelotti’s predecessor Marco Silva, Everton got themselves into trouble through an insistence on playing out from the back against effective and dangerous high presses.

Calvert-Lewin tends to pull out wide on to the side of the pitch nearest to the full-back or central defender who is weakest in the air, and times his runs to win flick-ons that Richarlison and wide attackers such as Bernard, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Alex Iwobi or Theo Walcott try to pick up. The combination of Pickford’s accurate distribution and Calvert-Lewin’s aerial ability means Everton can often retain possession after a high-risk, direct pass (above).

The 23-year-old’s aerial ability is also not limited to these scenarios. He is deadly close to goal – a feature that suits Everton’s desire to get in down the flanks and put crosses into the penalty area. Everton have had more headed attempts on goal than any other Premier League team so far in 2019/20, despite ranking only 10th for shots with other body parts, and their tally of 11 headed goals places them second only to Liverpool. Calvert-Lewin’s four headed goals in the Premier League season is bettered only by Burnley’s Chris Wood.

His movement in the area has developed significantly over the past year. Gary Neville once described Robin van Persie as “like a burglar in your house – you don’t know what room he’s in”. Calvert-Lewin perhaps still has a way to go to match Van Persie, but he has become a much more elusive figure for defenders than the player of previous campaigns. He positions himself between opposing central defenders – behind the near-side defender, who cannot see him, and far enough away from the other that he has space to himself (above). That also isn’t always where he ends up. He varies his runs, sometimes darting across the defender in front of him, and other times peeling off around the back.

He similarly provides a great deal of energy in the final third, and forces defenders into mistakes by pressuring them. On several occasions in 2019/20 he has profited with a goal after pouncing on an error –many of his goals against the bigger teams have come in this way. He has scored against Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea after poor defending; his acrobatic strike against Arsenal came after a brief lapse in concentration from David Luiz. Calvert-Lewin is always alert to mistakes in the penalty area, where he is proving increasingly ruthless.

Indeed, he has developed into something of a penalty-box poacher, with every one of his 15 goals in all competitions this season coming from inside the area, and all but four of them first-time strikes. He is lethal off one or two touches, although when he has more work to do – or an opponent to beat – he isn’t anything like as effective. He does still give defenders a chance to get back and block.

Though Calvert-Lewin is strong in the air and Richarlison superb at picking up the scraps, they are not a typical two-man forward line. They dovetail brilliantly, constantly swapping positions and jobs, moving out to the wings as well as dropping deep to create space for the other. Now that Calvert-Lewin has added potency in front of goal to his game, he can make genuine claim to being one of the top flight’s most dangerous centre-forwards.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

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