When did your penny drop with Dominic Calvert-Lewin? That solitary outing as a right-wing-back against Stoke four years ago? When Marco Silva was sacked and Duncan Ferguson at long last gave him some bloody company? When David De Gea was decent enough to whack a clearance into his flailing leg?
It’s been a circuitous route to stardom for Everton’s number nine, for whom application and resilience have always been constants, yet goals - the currency by which strikers are, rightly or wrongly, measured - less so. These days, though, there can be no such reservations. Netting his 21st of the season in Sunday’s dogged win at West Ham, Calvert-Lewin’s stellar, tireless, match-winning performance felt his latest seminal moment; one which should convert any of his few, most ardent remaining doubters.
All the more impressively, Calvert-Lewin has started to devour the morsels his team-mates feed him. Which again proved the case at the London Stadium - Everton again won with the minority share of possession (31 per cent), and their poor number nine’s 34 touches were the fewest of any outfield player to complete the full 90. He may not plough a lone furrow so much these days with Richarlison as his accomplice, but this more pragmatic iteration under Carlo Ancelotti can still drip-feed you chances at times.
The goal itself was somewhat a collector’s item for Calvert-Lewin, perhaps even revealing another string to his bow. An instinctive, impulsive finisher, this was merely the third of his 24 league strikes under Ancelotti (a total surpassed by only Bruno Fernandes, Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane in that time) not to arrive via his first touch. Nobody in the top-flight betters his seven headed goals this season, either. Nor, at least before Sunday, had he netted this term in the Premier League from more than eight yards.
So, when Ben Godfrey unhinged a miserly defence in a split-second midway through the first half, maybe Craig Dawson was lulled into a false sense of security. Maybe he felt assured enough in rolling out the red carpet for Calvert-Lewin and affording him the luxury of controlling the football. ‘The 18-yard-box isn’t his domain, anyway,’ he could be forgiven for thinking. How harebrained this proved, as Calvert-Lewin took the ball under his spell before lashing past Lukasz Fabianski in predatory, ruthless fashion.
For Calvert-Lewin is no one-trick pony, and not only in terms of finishing, either. His goal, Ancelotti said post-match, was that of a ‘top striker,’ but there is far more which qualifies him for this title than solely his prolific poaching. On multiple occasions in a more frantic first half, he was scurrying so deeply within Everton’s own half, he could be mistaken for an auxiliary third defensive midfielder alongside the excellent, tenacious Allan and Tom Davies. As West Ham turned the screw after the break, albeit to no avail, Calvert-Lewin was either in the thick of the rearguard action, or providing an outlet from which Everton could sporadically break.
It is these qualities, almost as much as his vastly-improved strike rate, which render Calvert-Lewin so integral to Ancelotti’s game plan, and which rendered Calvert-Lewin himself visibly spent once the sweet release of the final whistle sounded. Lying prostrate on the turf, the man whose goals have earned Everton 16 of their 55 points this season had earned his respite. He almost even notched his first assist of the campaign in the final moments, teeing up Joshua King to head against the woodwork; had roles been reversed, there may have been a little more in the way of breathing space for Everton to savour.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin at full-time after putting in a massive shift for Everton! pic.twitter.com/bCygatMqhJ— Football Daily (@footballdaily) May 9, 2021
At the end of which, Calvert-Lewin now has 16 league goals this campaign - a personal best, and a feat second only to Romelu Lukaku for Everton in the Premier League. Yet much as comparisons with Lukaku have long seemed inevitable, given both have stuck balls in nets with greater regularity than most in royal blue, they feel equally trite.
Lukaku, it is not particularly outlandish to say, is the more complete finisher, and was during his four years at Everton, too. He scored a free-kick once; Calvert-Lewin hasn’t. He could bulldoze his way to goal virtually single-handedly at times; Calvert-Lewin usually needs a little help from his friends. And yet, their goal records at Goodison Park are becoming increasingly comparable. And yet, Calvert-Lewin emerges as not only the more likeable, but also perhaps the well-rounded footballer.
Whereas Everton-era Lukaku had little else to his game to shout about but goals, Calvert-Lewin feels more refined, more selfless, foraging away for his team’s betterment, even if simultaneously to his own detriment. Lukaku also played in more cavalier Everton sides who deemed defending an afterthought and attacked with reckless abandon - naive in hindsight, but a goldmine for scoring opportunities. Ancelotti’s Everton have, by and large, adopted a more methodical approach, choosing their moments more judiciously. Which means that chances for Calvert-Lewin are more seldom-seen than they were for Lukaku - all the more impressive, then, that he has become so clinical when opportunity has knocked.
It has been exponential progress charted gradually over a transformative four years for Calvert-Lewin, who has equalled or increased his Everton goal return every season since his maiden campaign in 2016-17. There are still flaws to his finishing, no doubt, but history would suggest that they will be the next rough edges to be emphatically ironed out.
For while there was no third hat-trick of the season at the London Stadium, no trademark bullet header to revel in, this felt every bit as telling about how much Calvert-Lewin has blossomed on Ancelotti’s and Ferguson’s watch. He had shedded the tag of striker who doesn’t strike long before Sunday, but there are now countless more facets to his game which bear the hallmarks of a true Everton number nine.