Some observers — ok, confession: this observer! — of England’s U21s not all that long ago upon seeing Harry Kane for the first time might have wondered just what this lanky product of Tottenham’s youth system with no real pace or discernible dominance in the air had about him that was so promising.
The answer, as he has proved with hatfuls of goals over the past two seasons at the very top level, was, of course, plenty.
A similar question was asked of Dominic Calvert-Lewin by many Evertonians last season as, just months after he was picked up from Sheffield United for relative buttons on the assumption of many that he would be groomed by David Unsworth in the U23s, Ronald Koeman was regularly naming him in the first-team’s starting XI.
Even if the 20-year-old Yorkshireman might not go on to be as prolific as Kane has been for Spurs, he is becoming an important player for Everton and one with more arrows in his quiver than originally met the eye.
His manager clearly saw something in him on the training grounds at Finch Farm and with the winning goal in Ružomberok and now a man-of-the-match calibre performance at the Etihad no less, Calvert-Lewin is starting to reveal it to the Everton fanbase as a whole.
It’s a shame that his impressive assist for Wayne Rooney in the 35th-minute of this early-season tussle between Manchester and Merseyside at the Etihad didn’t end up serving up a precious winner on a ground that has been a source of much frustration for the Toffees in recent years.
The young striker was central to Koeman’s game plan against City’s undeniable might and attacking superiority and, even discounting Kyle Walker’s somewhat harsh dismissal for what Robert Madley deemed were two bookable offences, by the halfway stage of the contest, it was a strategy that was working to perfection.
It’s debatable whether Pep Guardiola would have reshuffled his forward line by introducing Raheem Sterling for Gabriel Jesus as early as the break had he not been starting the second half a man down but Everton would unquestionably have faced an onslaught regardless. It was just unfortunate that their fine defensive display was undermined by one mis-placed header to Sterling eight minutes from time by the otherwise excellent Mason Holgate.
As such, this was a game of incredibly fine margins and one where the agony of that draw snatched from the jaws of victory prompted the inevitable lament of the Blues’ apparent lack of adventure and propensity to sit back in the second half.
At some point, however, in the face of such attacking prowess as that available to Guardiola, you have to concede that City can just be that irrepressible on their own patch — even with 10 men and even if their end product in the final third was consistently disappointing on the night, stymied and thrown off kilter by Everton’s stubborn rearguard.
Marshalled by Phil Jagielka, who was immense in a fixture that last season appeared to signal that Father Time had finally caught up with him, the visiting defence repelled most of what City managed to engineer through an Everton midfield that was in similarly stingy mood.
Morgan Schneiderlin was more than a touch over-zealous, unfortunately, with a late tackle on Sergio Agüero in only the seventh minute, a moment he would come to regret two minutes from the end when he swept the ball away from the same player but was penalised by Madley with a second yellow card for the fact that his trailing leg caught the Argentine on the follow-through.
On the whole, though, the Blues showed they came to this gunfight armed with a lot more than the David Moyes knife of old and it made for a first half where they were very much in the contest. Calvert-Lewin and Davies fired wide of Ederson’s goal at one end while Pickford foiled Nicolas Otamendi’s speculative drive and Jagielka headed Agüero’s attempt to dink it over the stranded ‘keeper behind to safety.
Silva went closer than anyone to opening the scoring after a stumbling Jagielka had somehow managed to keep abreast of Agüero and closed him down superbly as he bore down on goal. The following minute, the striker was given enough room to pick Silva out at the far post and in one motion, the Spanish midfielder brought the ball down and rifled it off the face of Pickford’s right-hand post.
One minute after that let-off, Rooney plundered his 200th Premier League goal, underscoring again that he has lost little of his goal-poaching ability. Holgate, playing effectively as a right wing-back in a five-man back line, advanced into space and played in Calvert-Lewin on the right side of the box. Teasing Vincent Kompany into a lunging attempted block, he cut the ball back and squared invitingly for Rooney to bang it home first time off the goalkeeper.
And the game seemed to swing further in Everton’s favour in the space of two minutes shortly before half time. Walker was fractionally late arriving for a 50/50 challenge with Leighton Baines and was booked. Then, when Calvert-Lewin went down clutching his face following a collision with the fullback, Walker was flashed another yellow card, leaving him to remonstrate with the fourth official before being ushered into the tunnel for an early bath.
The second 45 minutes were an altogether more one-sided affair, although a better ball from Rooney after Pickford had dropped the ball into Calvert-Lewin’s lap with a 60-yard left-footed laser might have given the latter the chance to make it 2-0 but, alas, his pass was too heavy.
From then on, it was all about whether City’s 10 men could fashion a breakthrough, something they didn’t look as though they were going to do as Bernardo Silva bounced a half-volley wide, Danilo was foiled by Pickford from the angle, and Sterling blazed two good openings over the crossbar
The ex-Liverpool man atoned in the 82nd minute, however, when Holgate’s attempted clearance fell invitingly in front of him with the whole goal to aim at and he volleyed it beyond Pickford to steal a point for the hosts. Another one of those draws that feel like defeats where you wonder what might have happened if Everton had been able to just produce a little more going forward themselves when they had an extra man.
It’s not like Koeman adopted a wholly defensive posture, though. As part of a double change with an hour gone, he withdrew a centre-half in the form of Ashley Williams and introduced Gylfi Sigurdsson for the final thirty minutes along with Davy Klaassen. A trademark free kick aside, where he picked out the head of Rooney for Everton’s sole effort on target in the second half, the Iceland international was largely a spectator; the Dutch midfielder, meanwhile, saved his most remarkable intervention for the dying moments of stoppage time with a crucial touch to take the ball — not to mention the chance to score an unlikely winner — away from David Silva.
Yes, Everton were clinging on to their slender 1-0 lead going into the final 10 minutes but it's debatable how much choice they had. Where Calvert-Lewin had been a consistently reliable out-ball in the first half, capitalising on the space behind City’s wing-backs and generally wreaking havoc, those avenues were largely cut off in the second period once Guardiola had changed his formation when John Stones was replaced by Danilo.
You could make an argument that Jordan Pickford elected for route one out-balls aimed in Calvert-Lewin’s direction too often in the second half – Koeman agrees, it seems, that his side didn't pass it enough – and that the substitution of Tom Davies removed a key link man between midfield and attack – but the truth is the game plan so very nearly worked to a tee.
Everton came within 10 minutes of claiming their first win at the Etihad Stadium in seven years but were pegged back by Raheem Sterling's volley in an incident-filled contest.
The Blues had played the previous 40 minutes a goal up following Wayne Rooney's 200th Premier League strike and with a man extra after Kyle Walker was sent off for two bookable offences but couldn't hold out for three priceless points.
They faced almost ceaseless one-way traffic after half time as Manchester City belied their numerical disadvantage with mounting pressure and Pep Giardiola's men eventually found the breakthrough in the 82nd minute before Morgan Schneiderlin also saw red in controversial circumstances late on.
Ronald Koeman had countered Guardiola's three centre-halves with a five-man back line of his own, deploying Mason Holgate as the right wing-back, starting Tom Davies in the centre with Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin and dropping Davy Klaassen to the bench.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin played up top with Rooney and the wisdom of the Dutchman's game plan quickly became apparent as the young striker put in an excellent shift as the target and hold-up man in attack.
The 20-year-old had Everton's first attempt at goal, a speculative effort across Ederson that had the Brazilian scrambling across his line to see it past the far post, and then teed Davies up for a shot of his own but the midfielder dragged it well wide.
At the other end, Nicolas Otamendi drew the first save from Jordan Pickford with a long-range effort that the England U21 keeper pushed away but only as far as Sergio Agüero. He tried to lift the ball over him and into the far corner but Phil Jagielka was on hand to head to safety over his own crossbar.
Agüero was foiled by brilliant covering work again by Jagielka in the 33rd minute but looked to have carved the Blues open a minute later with a precision cross to David Silva at the far post. The Spaniard brought it down expertly but slammed his shot off the woodwork.
A minute after that, Everton took the lead. Holgate advanced into space towards the City penalty area and slipped the ball to Calvert-Lewin who wrong-footed his marker deftly before squaring it to Rooney. The veteran forward sent an accomplished first-time shot in off the ‘keeper to make it 1-0.
Rattled, the home side tried to rally into the interval but when Walker appeared to clatter through Leighton Baines, he picked up his first booking and then collected a second just two minutes later after Calvert-Lewin went down clutching his face following an aerial collision with City's home debutant. Referee Robert Madley went to his pocket again and flashed Walker another yellow card.
Guardiola responded to the setback at the start of the second half by withdrawing Gabriel Jesus and introducing Sterling and the pattern of the second 45 minutes was soon established as City took control but struggled to create clear-cut chances against Everton's resolute back line.
Rooney had a momentary opportunity to slide Calvert-Lewin after terrific distribution by Pickford had put the defence on the back foot but his pass was overhit and he headed a later free kick straight at Ederson. Otherwise, it was virtually all the home side, particularly in the final half hour, even after Gylfi Sigurdsson had come on for his debut.
Bernardo Silva bounced a half-volley wide, Sterling then drove over the bar twice in as many minutes and Pickford saved well from Danilo as he tried to fire a shot underneath him from the angle.
Everton's goal was breached for the first time as the game moved into its final stages, however, and in unfortunate circumstances. The otherwise excellent Mason Holgate could only head a cross from the right back to Sterling in a central position in front of goal and he made no mistake by sending it past Pickford into the bottom corner.
Having been booked as early as the seventh minute, Schneiderlin had been walking a tightrope all evening and when he was adjudged to have fouled Agüero late on, referee Madley brandished his second yellow despite the fact that replays would show he got the ball.
The draw represents a good return from a tricky fixture but Koeman was left frustrated that his side wasn't able to ride out the last 10 minutes to claim victory.
Everton begin a difficult sequence of fixtures both at home and abroad tomorrow evening as they make the short trip the Etihad Stadium to face highly-fancied Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola's side are one of the favourites to win the Premier League this season as the Spaniard has strengthened an already impressive squad with some targeted acquisitions this year and he will be operating with the benefit of a season's worth of experience under his belt.
They represent the first of three successive away games that will see Everton travel to Split on Thursday and the home of defending Champions Chelsea next Sunday before they host Tottenham and then visit Manchester United.
Ronald Koeman is under no illusions about the strength of tomorrow's opponents but says he will be looking at way to exploit their weaknesses.
The Dutchman says he knows the Spaniard well and while he acknowledges that City look stronger than last season when the Blues took four points off them over the two games, he says that the Premier League can be an inhospitable place teams that only play one way.
“I am a good friend of Pep and I know the way he likes to play,” Koeman explained. “It's the most difficult way. It's really a pleasure to see his teams playing football, with a high defence and a lot of offensive players in the team.
“But the Premier League sometimes is strong and physical, plus if you play with a high defence there is always space behind. When we played City at home we punished them for that but I think with the business they did in the summer City are stronger than last year.
This will be Everton's fifth game of the season already but only their second in the Premier League following last weekend's 1-0 win over Stoke City. They have yet to concede a goal so far, although Koeman admits retaining that record after tomorrow might be a tall order.
Everton's last trip to the Etihad was a difficult one where the Blues were set up to defend and frustrate City while hoping to hit them on the break. It was a strategy that worked well when Yannick Bolasie sent Romelu Lukaku away on one of his trademark gallops towards goal and he earned Everton a point in a 1-1 draw but Koeman admits his team were fortunate.
Neither player will be on the field, of course, and Koeman is still looking for a No.9-style striker but he is confident that with his team's defensive solidity, they have a foundation from which to get something again on City's home turf.
“When we played at City last season I mentioned that we were really lucky to get one point out of that game. On that day they played fantastic football and I spoke about them being the big favourites to win the league. After that they started to struggle but that's football, you never know, it's difficult to make predictions about who is the strongest.
“If we get a clean sheet on Monday I don't know if it will be a miracle — maybe it will but we do know we are strong defensively, our defensive organisation is strong.
“The key to getting a good result is what we do when we have the ball and that's what our preparation will be about. You have different ways to play, we will look at the best way to get a good result.”
With no Lukaku, any counter-attacking strategy would perhaps rely on the pace of Kevin Mirallas or Sandro Ramirez, if the latter is passed fit after missing the first leg against Split with a heel injury. Everton lack speed in other areas of the squad but after two frustrating performances against Ružomberok in the Third Qualifying round of the Europa League, there have been signs over the past three games of an understanding and cohesion between the forward players.
Then there is the addition of Gylfi Sigurdsson to the equation and the likelihood that he will feature at some point at the Etihad following his record-breaking move from Swansea City. The Icelandic midfielder's threat from set-pieces and from distance in open play could be important if the game is level or close in the second half. He is an unlikely started given his lack of pre-season preparation but his new manager appears very keen to get him involved so it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see his name in the starting XI.
Manchester City, for their part, will be close to full strength, with Ilkay Gundogan able to play some part as he returns from a long injury layoff. Bernard Mendy and Fabian Delph are set to miss out through lack of fitness but Guardiola's side look ominously strong otherwise.
In players like Sergio Agüero, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Gabriel Jesus they already had threats all over the field but with the likes of Kyle Walker, Danilo and Bernardo Silva signed over the summer, they look better equipped to make a sustained tilt at the title than last season.
The key for Everton could be to press and harry them into having an off day that could sew frustration in the crowd and then use the savvy of a player like Wayne Rooney — having scored one of the best goals in recent memory in a Manchester derby, the ex-Red Devil is no stranger to the spectacular in this fixture — to unlock them at the other end.
What would be the first win for the Blues on City's turf since December 2010 feels beyond optimistic heading into this one but stranger things have happened in the early part of the season and, as Koeman says, it's difficult to make predictions in football!
Kick-off: 8pm, Monday 21st August, 2017
Last Time: Manchester City 1-1 Everton