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Is Dominic Calvert-Lewin the answer to Everton’s striking problem?

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The young forward has made great strides this season and is a prime example of how first-team football aids a youngster’s development

Everton FC v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

One of Everton’s biggest mistakes in recent years (and there a few to choose from) was the failure to adequately replace Romelu Lukaku.

When it emerged that Lukaku had rejected a new contract in March 2017, Everton should have begun the hunt for a successor straight away.

Instead the club’s muddled transfer policy under Steve Walsh and Ronald Koeman resulted in an unbalanced side packed with no.10s but no frontline striker to play in front of them.

We all know what happened next of course, but looking back the one bright spot amidst all the chaos was the opportunity presented to Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The then 20-year-old had only made six starts for the club going into the 2017-18 season but was thrust into the spotlight during the opening weeks of the campaign.

He scored the only goal in the Europa League qualifying second leg win over Ruzomberok before being bizarrely deployed as right wing-back in the Premier League opener against Stoke.

That versatility and willingness to play anywhere proved both a blessing and a curse, as it afforded him plenty of opportunities but also saw him played all over the place as Koeman scrambled to find a formation that clicked.

As the team’s form nosedived, Goodison became an increasingly fractious place to play football. At times like that you need senior players to step up, but such leaders were conspicuous by their absence during the autumn of 2017.

I felt that placed an unfair burden on young players such as Calvert-Lewin, who never looked to hide on the field despite the team’s problems.

But, in hindsight, that exposure to first-team football, playing against grizzled, hardened defenders in a team struggling for form, was the best thing that could have happened for Calvert-Lewin’s career.

Cardiff City v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Too many young players in the Premier League struggle for senior football between the ages of 18 and 22, stifling their development.

You only have to look across the park and Dominic Solanke, who played alongside Calvert-Lewin in the U20 World Cup final in June 2017, claiming the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player in the process.

Solanke had made 32 appearances since that game, mainly from the bench, whilst Calvert-Lewin has played 76.

That experience has clearly reaped dividends, resulting in arguably Calvert-Lewin’s finest performance in an Everton shirt to date against Chelsea on Sunday.

Yes, he didn’t score, but his all-round game was excellent. The versatility that saw him played all over the pitch in his early career is helping him to develop into a modern striker, capable of both holding to ball up to bring others in to play as well as running the channels to create space for teammates in the middle.

This was backed up by some stats published in an article on the Premier League’s official website last week. it showed that Calvert-Lewin ranked third in the division for top speed, fifth for distance covered per 90 minutes and sixth for aerial duels won.

Prior to the Chelsea game he also had the best minutes-per-goal ratio at the club, averaging one goal every 194 minutes.

I think it would be naive to suggest that Calvert-Lewin’s progress means Everton do not need to sign a striker this summer, but at the same time denying him first-team football next season could stunt his development at a crucial stage in his career.

Instead, any new signing could be brought in to compliment the Sheffield-born striker rather than replace him. Whilst the next few months until the end of the season is the ideal opportunity for Calvert-Lewin to cement that number nine spot as his own.

If that’s the case then Calvert-Lewin could develop into a far more accomplished player than we thought even just a few months ago.