HomeNewsThe ‘perfect’ No.9: Can Everton star Calvert-Lewin shoot down Klopp’s Liverpool?
The ‘perfect’ No.9: Can Everton star Calvert-Lewin shoot down Klopp’s Liverpool?
October 14, 2020
The rise of Dominic Calvert-Lewin continues.
Not bad for five weeks’ work.
This weekend, the 23-year-old will be looking to add to his list. Liverpool, the reigning champions, are in his crosshairs. Everton, the early-season pacesetters, have their eye on a first Merseyside derby win in a decade.
With their No.9 in this kind of form, Carlo Ancelotti’s side will certainly fancy their chances. Liverpool’s defence, exposed so brutally at Aston Villa before the international break, should have their work cut out against the league’s most in-form striker.
Calvert-Lewin has made six club appearances this season and scored in five of them. Only Fleetwood Town of League One have managed to keep him out, and Everton still managed to score five that night anyway.
Ancelotti has called him “a complete striker”, while David Unsworth, the Blues’ academy director, describes him as “the perfect No.9”, one who should be aiming for “20 goals this season – and every season after that.”
It was Unsworth who was instrumental in bringing Calvert-Lewin to Everton in 2016, having spotted him while working at Sheffield United’s academy four years previously.
“What stood out was his gym work,” he recalls. “His power from a standing jump was the best I’ve ever seen.”
Calvert-Lewin may have grown up in Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday territory, but he had always been a Blade. He joined Sheffield United at the age of nine,progressing steadily through their ranks – albeit not, surprisingly, as a striker to begin with.
“He was a midfielder, box-to-box,” Keith Briggs tellsGoal. Briggs was Calvert-Lewin’scoach at Under-16 level, and would later become his manager at senior levelwhen, in a bid to accelerate his development and take him out of his comfort zone, United decided to loan him to Stalybridge Celtic in the sixth tier of English football.
“Nick Cox was the academy manager at the time, and Travis Binnion was the U23s coach,” Briggs remembers. “Dom was 17, and they made a decision to get him out on loanand let him experience the real world. I was managing Stalybridge at the time so it was decided that he’d go with me for a month.
“It was Travis who decided to try him as a striker. He’d always had an eye for goal from midfield, he had good technique and he was so athletic, so the decision was made to try him up frontand see how he handled it against no-nonsense, experienced centre-halves in the Conference North.”
At Stalybridge he was swiftly introduced to the reality of men’s football.
“I remember a board member saying to me at the time that he couldn’t believe we were putting our faith in an untried 17-year-old,” Briggs says. “But I told him we didn’t need to worry. I knew his character.”
Calvert-Lewin’s debut for Stalybridge was against local rivals Hyde United on Boxing Day 2014.
“It was cold, horrible and Dom froze under pressure of senior level football,” says Nick Cox.“Then just before half-time he got a whack around his head where he was seeing double and had a big bruise around his eye.”
Binnion, who was in attendance with Cox, and Briggs made sure the youngster stayed on – “Do not quit because it’s tough,” he was told – and in the second half hescored twice, his first senior goals. Stalybridge won 4-2.
“I played the rest of the game with basicalllyone eye,” Calvert-Lewin says.He still has the scar.
“It’s probably the game the following week that everyone remembers though,” says Briggs. “We played Hyde again on New Year’s Day, there was a big crowd in and Dom was unbelievable that day. He scored one and set three or four up. He’s just kicked on from there.”
Briggs is careful not to claim too much credit for his rise since, but believes Stalybridge was an important stop-off point in Calvert-Lewin’s career.
“He needed to be more aggressive, to find ways to cope with physical defenders,” he says. “He needed to be roughed up, to not get his own way all the time, and to cope with that.
“It worked, to be honest. He’s not looked back.”
His Sheffield United debut came at the end of the 2014-15 season, and the following season he would score eight goals in 10 starts on loan at Northampton in League One. He returned to Bramall Lane in January 2016, and moved on to Everton that summer.
There has been plenty of upheaval since. In four years, Calvert-Lewin has played under six different managers. He featured regularly under Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce and Marco Silva, but it was under the interim guidance of Duncan Ferguson in December of last year that his development began to accelerate.
“I came in on a Friday morning and he put his arm around me straight away,” Calvert-Lewin says.
“He said, ‘You are going to be my man up top, you are going to play.’ It was the first time I had been given that responsibility to feel like a true No.9, I guess.
“It gave me that instant uplift: this is my time now.”
Calvert-Lewin scored twice in Ferguson’s first game, a 3-1 win over Chelsea, and has continued to flourish under Ancelotti, who was appointed a fortnight later.
Indeed, since that Chelsea game only Mohamed Salah, who will be in opposition this weekend, has scored more Premier League goals.
“I think he’s gone to a level where a lot of people didn’t think he was capable of going,” says Liverpool legend Jan Molby. “I think many people looked at him and thought ‘ok, he’s a handful but he’s a little bit one-dimensional’.
“But I think Duncan laid it on the line for him and said ‘for a striker with your physical attributes, this is where you need to play.’ He needs to be central, between the two centre-halves, always being a nuisance.”
“He pulled me aside and the first ‘criticism’ was, ‘you need to stay central’,” he says. “It was like music to my ears because all my career I have been told to run channels.
“There are different ways of being a focal point and I knew what he meant. My role within the team is to hit the back of the net and make sure I am in a position to score goals. I’m not going to score if I’m out near the corner flag.”
Playing more centrally, he has flourished. Ancelotti has encouraged him to study Filippo Inzaghi, the former Italy striker. “He scored 300 goals, and 210 were with one touch,” the Everton boss says.
The advice seems to be working. Of Calvert-Lewin’s 10 goals for club and country this season, nine have been one-touch finishes. His aerial prowess was already well-established – since the start of last season, nobody in the Premier League has scored more headed goals – but it is the rest of his game which has improved rapidly. Only Salah, Harry Kane and Aleksandar Mitrovic have attempted more shots this season, and only Kane has managed more on target.
“There are some great strikers in the Premier League but Calvert-Lewin offers something different,” says Molby, who admits Liverpool will be “wary” of his threat this weekend.
“And he offers things that defenders don’t like. He overpowers them. He must be a nightmare to play against.”
For Keith Briggs, his former pupil’s rise is no surprise.
“He’s done unbelievably well, hasn’t he?” he says. “I still send him the odd text, and he always replies ‘thanks gaffer’. That sums him up. He was only at Stalybridge a month, but he’s still in contact for a few of the lads from there.
“He’s that type of lad, respectful and grounded. I saw him take his hat off to the England manager the other day, and that sums up what type of kid he is. He’d do that to anyone.
“He’s got a great temperament, great character. He won’t change. He’ll always be that grounded, lovely lad we met years ago.