This article is supported by InStat.
An underwhelming start followed by an Autumn resurgence is a fair observation on the opening stages of Marco Silva’s two-seasons at Everton. Judging by the fixture list – gruesome winter blues are too follow. Although The Toffees have seamlessly stalled and look tactical inept under Silva; there are positives you can pull from this team.
One is Dominic Calvert-Lewin – though the narrative of “a striker who can’t score goals equals useless” still lingers and has taken away the plaudits that Calvert-Lewin has earned. The 22-year-old joined Everton back in 2016, David Unsworth playing an important role in bringing him to Goodison Park.
Since then, Calvert-Lewin has been continually racking up minutes in the Premier League; even if his goals return isn’t eye-catching. But why is he a crucial part in this team? Is there more to his tally that meets the eye? Of course there is, which is why I’m going to break it down for you.
A KEEN PRESSER
Everton play the most aggressive and efficient high-block in the Premier League. Both wingers drop into the midfield line, whilst Gylfi Sigurdsson pushes forward next to the striker. This creates a 4-4-2 block who press high up on the centre-backs, winning the ball high up the pitch and build quick transitions out of their defensive shape.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is a key part in our pressing play, according to InStat data, Richarlison is the only Everton forward involved in more challenges than DCL. He often covers a large amount of distance and forces the ball carrier to move or play possession into the channels. He times his press when the player in possession is orientated to one side, which limits his passing options and forces the ball away from central areas.
His pressing versus Burnley is a good example of this. Although Sean Dyche’s team do like to make long passes down wide channels, rushing a player’s decision-making can certainly make the difference between an effective and ineffective pass.
Here is a good example. Everton’s defensive organisation is heavily man-orientated, Sigurdsson, Seamus Coleman and Morgan Schneiderlin are all man-marking potential passing options; whilst Richarlison is pressing the ball carrier. Ben Mee’s body positioning keeps his options down that channel… take a touch and you invite pressure, try to pass the ball to James Tarkowski… pressure would be applied down that side of the pitch.
Calvert-Lewin occupies the space between the two centre-backs, blocking that passing lane between the two. His pressing forces Ben Mee to make a risky long pass forward. When Everton are out of possession, you would often see DCL occupy areas like this before he aggressively presses either of the centre-backs.
THE UN-EXPECTED NUMBERS
In possession, Everton have always been bad when it comes to feeding their attackers. Even during the days of Romelu Lukaku, players around them struggled to link in the final third and our striker is starved of the ball as a result. Calvert-Lewin is certainly a striker who is starved of the ball. Making just 2.03 touches in the box per 90, this leaves him in the bottom 5% of strikers in Europe’s Top-Five leagues in this statistic.
Marco Silva is yet to establish a sufficient way of breaking down low-block teams, so Everton heavily rely on aimless crosses into the penalty area in order to take shots at goal. As you can imagine, this main route of attacking relies on quantity rather than quality. According to Between the Posts data, Everton rank 16th in shot quality (0.104 xG per shot) whilst ranking 10th in total shot count in open play (8.2 shots per game.)
Our attacking numbers under Silva this season are grim-viewing, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin has excelled in his shooting numbers. He has recorded 0.45 Expected Goals per game, only six strikers under the age of 23 have a higher rate in Europe’s top five.
Over the past three seasons, Calvert-Lewin has been underperforming against his xG numbers… but for the first time, it seems he has found that clinical finish. He has scored three times in the Premier League from 2.87 Expected Goals, considering his low shot count and Everton’s serve lack of quality in creating chances, the fact he can still get into these areas is very impressive.
His shot map also indicates his ability to get into great positions inside the box, he just needs a much better quality of service other than an overload of crosses from out wide. If Marco Silva establishes an efficient passing structure, we could see Calvert-Lewin thrive in front of goal.
EXPLOITING THE BLINDSIDE
It’s a relationship that works both ways, key passes can’t be made if your striker is static and strikers can’t get into great positions if there isn’t someone linking with them. Calvert-Lewin can certainly make these runs and he does this by exploiting his markers blind side.
Just like he does in a defensive situation, he targets the space between the centre-backs. Although he is closely marked and in the defensive line, his body positioning always gives him an advantage. Calvert-Lewin is often sideways against the defender who is fixated on the ball. When a ball is played behind the defensive line, he instantly has the upper hand.
Here is a good example against Southampton. The ball has transitioned from the left channel, which has resulted in more space opening in central areas due to the numbers Southampton have committed. Jack Stephens is focused on the player on the ball, whilst Calvert-Lewin is anticipating the pass from Alex Iwobi.
Iwobi produces a fantastic line-breaking pass into the space shown, giving DCL access inside the penalty area and to take a shot at goal – a fantastic recovery from Jannik Vestergaard blocks the shot.
Scenarios like this one have been limited, due to Everton’s poor buildup play. However, there is certainly promise with this frontline that we can become a fast, creative attacking unit. With the right players behind him, they can enable Calvert-Lewin to get into great positions, like the one shown above, more consistently.
During the summer window, a striker was on top of the wish list for a majority of Evertonians. A striker is far from our main concern. Calvert-Lewin is a hard-working forward, strong in aerial duels and capable of getting into great positions in front of goal.
It’s a shame he’s been under three abysmal managers during his major developmental stage, but he is still 22, surrounded by some great attacking players. In a team who can successfully break down defensive systems, DCL can certainly thrive. Give him time, give him chances.
Up the Toffees.