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Dominic Calvert-Lewin holds the key to Everton’s holiday-period success

The striker’s numbers are better than you think

Everton FC v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Emma Simpson - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

In this space not too long ago, I made a case that Cenk Tosun was the answer at striker in a lot more scenarios than he had been used in by Everton to that point of the season.

I still think Cenk has an important role to play when all is said and done, but he’s been far overshadowed in recent week’s by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored twice in the 3-1 victory over Chelsea on Saturday. It’s felt like the 22-year-old is on the verge of a breakthrough for two and a half seasons now, but a combination of factors indicate that time might finally be now.

At the very least, the Chelsea match was a good start.

Let’s start with the raw numbers. Dom has five Premier League goals in 776 minutes played (that’s 8.62 90s, for those of you who prefer to measure time played by that unit), along with both goals against Sheffield Wednesday in the Toffees’ 2-0 victory in the third round of the Carabao Cup.

For the most part though, let’s focus just on his Premier League numbers. Those five league goals have come on 5.04 xG per Understat, so he’s finishing basically at expected rates — a major development for a guy with a reputation for being unreliable in the box.

That xG total is ludicrously impressive given that he’s only played 776 of his team’s 1,440 league minutes so far this season — just 54%.

In fact, among players with 500 or more minutes played, Dom’s xG per 90 is ninth in the Premier League — behind only Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Marcus Rashford, Tammy Abraham, Chris Wood (?!), Mohamed Salah, Jamie Vardy, and Raheem Sterling.

That’s it. Those are the only players getting more/better chances in their time on the pitch than Calvert-Lewin.

Now, both his chance creation and conversion rates are significantly higher than they’ve been the rest of his career so far. Before this season, he averaged around 0.3 xG per 90 and had scored 11 goals on 12.86 xG. So, he’s got a little ways to go before we can definitively say we’re looking at a permanent improvement and not just a short blip on the radar.

But with that said, there’s good reason to be optimistic about DCL keeping up this form over the next month. In fact, I’d go so far to say that he’ll be Everton’s most important player between now and mid-January.

There are two reasons this is the case.

First, just take a look at Everton’s fixtures over the next six weeks. Between now and January 18, the Toffees play Manchester United, Leicester City (in the Carabao Cup), Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool (in the FA Cup), and West Ham United — all teams that will look to play with possession against Everton.

It’s those sort of matches in which Calvert-Lewin has traditionally excelled — he’s at his best either when leading the high press against an opponent trying to pass out of the back, or serving as an outlet for his defenders and midfielders when playing a deep block. In either scenario, his raw athleticism make him a handful for opponents to deal with.

Second, there’s a good chance we could continue to see him in the two-striker setup that worked so well against Chelsea, because the Toffees are still so short-handed when it comes to central midfielders.

In my post-match analysis, I covered why the pairing of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison is a successful one. In essence, Dom serves as the outlet at the front of the 4-4-2, either using his strength to shield the ball while his teammates get up field or his pace to get in behind defenders, while Richarlison does what he does best — make sneaky runs off the ball to get into space in and around the box.

That means not only chances for Calvert-Lewin on the counter and after breaking up opponent’s defensive-third passing like we saw against Chelsea, but also more space for Richarlison to get chances of his own out of possession, while Calvert-Lewin occupies the center-backs.

Against less-talented teams — especially those known for sitting deep and playing on the counter — DCL remains an uninspiring choice. He’s not a good distributor of the ball (his 0.02 xA per 90 this season is the worst of his career), and his off-ball work isn’t good enough to fool opposing defenders in tight space.

Cenk Tosun and Moise Kean both remain better options in matches against teams like Burnley and Newcastle, both of which Everton will also face in the coming weeks.

But Calvert-Lewin has proven pretty clearly that he’s a great option to have against more aggressive teams, and he now has the output to back that up. If the Toffees want to replicate their result from the Chelsea match against any of the talented clubs that are ahead on the fixture list, Calvert-Lewin will have to play an important part in the overall scheme.