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Richarlison: Brazil’s superstar in the making

Everton have garnered a great deal of attention at the start of the 2020/21 season after the Toffees made big name signings in Napoli’s Allan and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. Whilst those signings are going to be influential to Everton’s success, Carlo Ancelotti will be looking for Richarlison to continue his improvement and carry a huge attacking load for the team. The Brazilian was signed from Watford in the summer of 2018 after a scintillating debut season for the Hornets and he has continued to produce for a team who have been in limbo for the last couple of years.

However, he has looked incredibly sharp at the beginning of the new season and this tactical analysis will take a look at the tools that the 23-year-old possesses and whether he can reach the incredibly high potential he has shown at Goodison Park. 

Versatility

Richarlison is a rare breed of attacker in the sense that he is able to play in multiple positions in the attack at an alarmingly good level. There are pros and cons to that of course as a huge positive is that he will get game time under almost any coach that will manage him. However, it does limit his ceiling a little bit as he isn’t able to secure a position where he can master his game and produce consistently.

Having started as a winger at Fluminense and Watford, the Brazil international has been deployed on either side for the majority of his time at Everton. However, he seems to have found a consistent starting berth as a striker alongside another young striker in Dominic Calvert-Lewin in Ancelotti’s 4-2-2-2.

Given his versatility position wise, it should obviously be noted that his skill set is as versatile, which enables him to play in any attacking position. He stands at 5’10, which compliments well with his strike partner Calvert-Lewin who is 6’1 and Everton are able to play a modern-day big man-little man combination. Richarlison’s height is great for his style of play, which is to stretch to opposition’s backline with his incredible acceleration but it’s also not a hindrance in the aerial department. While he only wins 35.1% of his aerial duels and is in the 36th percentile for forwards across the top five leagues in Europe, he has managed to score with his head quite well. Out of the 13 Premier League goals, he scored last campaign, four of them were via his head, which equates to 30% of his goals in the competition.

He also has an incredibly valuable trait in that he is capable of playing on either foot. This makes him a huge threat as it eliminates a weakness that most defenders target against attackers. This is shown by the fact he scored five goals last season with his weaker left foot, which is the highest number of goals via a certain body part thus highlighting that his weaker foot is not exactly weak.

Goalscoring

We have mentioned his versatility in terms of his well-rounded skill set and positional versatility but now, we will focus on his finishing, which is one of his greatest attributes as a player. Richarlison is a player that always has an eye for goal, which has helped him get a tally of 13 goals in the league last season – the second consecutive season he has hit more than 10 goals. His underlying numbers did have a dip from his debut season at the club in terms of his scoring, but three managers were in charge last year, which helps provide a little bit of context. Thus, the following numbers will have to be taken with a pinch of salt given the turmoil the club went through.

His expected goals took a huge hit going down from 0.38 to 0.29 per game, a number that is far too low for a forward let alone a player who will play up front. Therefore, his total xG went down as well but he did once again outperform his overall xG at a level that can be described as sustainable overperformance. This also means that his non-penalty goals is respectable at 0.38, but is also down from 0.44. When you look at his shot map though, it’s quite positive.

He picks up great positions in the box, mixing it up with shots centrally and on either side. A large area of his shots are close and central, which is the best area to score from. A lot of the shots are marked in red from this area, which means that he has missed the target. This is an area that he has to improve on to take his game to the next level to become an elite scorer. He also takes a lot of shots from distance, which are low percentage shots can provide value in another way as seen below.

Richarlison has a shot in the final minutes against Crystal Palace from outside the box. He has the ability to test the keeper from range and here, the keeper is forced into a save. Unfortunately for Palace, the keeper palms it away to Calvert-Lewin who is five yards away but the Englishman fires over in embarrassing fashion. This is a play that Everton can look to use to get easy goals and was a tactic that Bayern Munich used with Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez where the former would take good shots from distance and the latter would come in and find easy goalscoring opportunities on the rebound.

A great way for Everton to take advantage of Richarlison’s threat as an attacker for him to get goals is in transition. The 23-year-old is unbelievably quick with acceleration that can be compared to the likes of Kylian Mbappé. With so much space available to him, he can make the most out of it either running in behind. He can even be played to feet as his dribbling has become much crisper and thus, is also difficult to stop with the ball at his feet.

Here, Everton find themselves on the break after winning the ball back. Tom Davies launches the ball forward with no real precision knowing that Richarlison will be able to at least challenge for the ball. Lewis Dunk, number 5, makes an attempt to recover the ball as he is going to be the closest to the ball yet the Brazilian beats him for pace despite having started much further behind. Richarlison manages to get to the ball and forces Dunk to make a fantastic block to give away a corner for Everton.

While Richarlison’s underlying numbers went down, he hasn’t shown a decrease in ability and has slightly bettered his shot selection too. His ability to score on both feet as well as providing a decent aerial threat is always going to be a recipe for goals and with the new signings Everton made, he will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.

Creativity

With his goalscoring taking a hit, Richarlison made a step up in his creative game that shows up both in film and in his underlying statistics. His passes and touches in the box have stayed relatively similar but his expected assists made a massive jump from 0.07 to 0.19 per Understat. He managed to attain three assists in the league last season, which is an improvement from the solitary assist he got in 2018/19. While this value is very low, he was expected to get 6.67 assists, therefore, highlighting that his teammates’ finishing let him down rather than it being down to his lack of creativity.

One reason for Richarlison’s improvement in this area is his increasing confidence to play higher risk passes. While this could be viewed as a bad thing, as these passes turnover possession more often than not, the chance from a high risk pass becomes much greater in quality. This example against Brighton showcases his improvement in passing.

Here, Calvert-Lewin drops in deep and flicks a pass perfectly into the Brazilian’s feet. As soon as Richarlison gets the ball, he makes a first time pass into the path of Theo Walcott –  a notorious speedster. Walcott loses his man and has a shot on target and should have arguably been given a penalty. The weight of pass from Richarlison was perfect as it landed straight into Walcott’s stride and his recognition to see that pass and accurately play it was fantastic. Being able to play first time passes will be a crucial asset in this Everton team as they have now an incredible playmaker in James as well as great crossing threats in Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman.

There are still passes that he can miss though, especially the riskier ones. His strength as a player is as someone who is on the end of chances but interplay at the edge of the area is an asset that could be vital when he’s playing alongside a target man in Calvert-Lewin.

In this example, Davies plays a pass into Richarlison expecting a one-two as he’s making a darting run into the middle. The window is tight for Richarlison to play the pass but the opportunity is available to do so with a potential chance at goal if the pass is accurate. However, the 23-year-old opts to play it out wide to the left-back. This is certainly not a bad option as Everton still have the ball in a good area but it does showcase that he isn’t willing to play extremely difficult passes.

Defensive work

Perhaps Richarlison’s greatest attribute is his defensive work. He epitomises what is required from a modern day forward and his output on the defensive end is a crucial part as to what made Everton buy him and made top clubs like Barcelona so interested in his service.

A lot of defensive work for forwards is about pressing and effort and Richarlison provides this in abundance. He ranks in the 83rd percentile in successful pressures against forwards who play in Europe’s top five leagues with 5.51 per game, which is fantastic. This example below showcases this really well.

The first image shows Richarlison going to press Ayew, who is on the ball and marked by Digne as they look to double team him and win the ball back. Ayew wasn’t able to play the pass to his teammate as he’s behind Richarlison, who did well to keep him in the cover shadow. However, he manages to wriggle away both of them and find his way near the middle of the pitch. Richarlison still chases him back though and the second image shows him winning the ball back via a slide tackle. The beginning point and end point are far apart in this sequence and this highlights the effort Richarlison puts in defensively.

In the example above, Richarlison shows his intelligence in his pressing, which also makes him extremely effective in this action. The Brighton keeper has the ball and has two options to play it to, both next to Richarlison. The Brazilian is outnumbered but convinces the keeper to play it to his nearest defender with a ‘stunt’. A stunt is a term where a player acts by going one way with the intention of forcing the pass to the now open man before closing that open man. Richarlison does this perfectly and immediately presses the defender, which nearly results in a chance for Everton but the keeper was able to clean up the play.

Final remarks

Richarlison is a superb player who, under the right system, can explode into being one of the best players in the world. His ceiling as a player is extremely high given his already well-rounded skill set on the offensive end but also his work off the ball on the defensive end. His eye for goal and ability to create coupled with his versatility make him an incredible asset in the modern game. With talented players around him and a historically great manager, Richarlison has the surroundings at Everton to reach great heights at Merseyside. Despite this, it’s hard to see him staying at Everton in his prime, such is his potential. Brazil have a lot of talented young players coming through but Richarlison looks set to carry the mantle from Neymar as Brazil’s next superstar.