Can Richarlison Offer a Reliable Alternative for Antonio Conte’s Spurs?
Richarlison is the latest arrival in a summer of signings for Spurs. Can the Brazilian prove doubters wrong and become a reliable alternative attacking force for Antonio Conte’s side?
Ivan Perišić, Fraser Forster, and Yves Bissouma all signed on the dotted line for Tottenham within a week of the 2022 summer transfer window opening. Spurs fans have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief all summer since they announced their first signing from Inter Milan in May. The window demanded by Antonio Conte and commanded by his compatriot Fabio Paratici has thrown up yet another surprising piece of business – Richarlison joining from Everton for a reported £60 million.
Every Spurs supporter will tell you they have been crying out for a reliable back-up option for Harry Kane ever since the English talisman took that starting spot from Roberto Soldado in 2014.
Many strikers, Soldado included, have tried to play second fiddle effectively to the England captain but failed – Vincent Janssen and Carlos Vinícius have come and gone. Is Richarlison the man they have been waiting for? Can he offer a whole lot more to a squad adding depth to challenge on all four fronts?
Janssen and Vinícius scored a combined total of just three goals in the Premier League for Tottenham. Conte needs someone who he can rely on for goals, and the numbers show that Richarlison knows where the back of the net is.
Since he joined Everton in 2018, no player has scored more league goals for the Toffees. Richarlison’s 43 puts him narrowly ahead of Dominic Calvert-Lewin (40) who, admittedly, has struggled with injury in the last 18 months. The Brazilian forward also created 12 goals for his team-mates, the third highest tally of assists in the Everton squad in the same period.
A key point on the goals Richarlison has scored is their importance. As last season approached a nervy end, Everton were in the thick of an ever-changing relegation battle. The forward scored an added-time equaliser at home to Leicester City, he scored the only goal in a narrow victory over Chelsea, and he was on the scoresheet when Everton beat Crystal Palace 3-2 on the penultimate day of the season to secure their safety.
The Brazilian also showed nerves of steel to convert two first-half penalties against their relegation rivals at Turf Moor at the start of April. After becoming the first away team in Premier League history to score twice from the penalty spot in the opening 45 minutes, Everton ultimately lost that game 3-2, but it wasn’t for the lack of ability up top.
In a transfer window that has been heavily focused on the movement of Brazilian forwards to north London clubs in the Premier League, it would be remiss of us not to compare Richarlison to his fellow countrymen across European football. Conveniently for Tottenham, their new man has scored more league goals than Arsenal signing Gabriel Jesus since joining Everton in 2018. In fact, Neymar is the only Brazilian to outscore Richarlison in Europe’s top five leagues since 2018.
43 – Since his Premier League debut for Everton in August 2018, @richarlison97 has scored 43 league goals; the only Brazilian with more in Europe’s big-five leagues in this time is Neymar (50). Spurred. pic.twitter.com/8giyY2PxrL— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 1, 2022
Richarlison’s tally of 10 Premier League goals last season also solidified him as one of the most consistent goalscorers to don Everton blue in the Premier League era. He reached 10+ goals in a Premier League season for a third time for Everton (after 2018-19 and 2019-20), only the second player to do so for the club, after Romelu Lukaku (four seasons).
In an Antonio Conte system, a forward is expected to do more than contribute to goals. The Italian manager demands a lot of his players out of possession too. Tottenham had some of the highest numbers in the Premier League since the Italian arrived for ground covered, and that is something they will be hoping Richarlison can match. The numbers, however, show there is quite a bit of work for the former Watford man to do in this department.
Of the 56 forwards/wingers to play 1500+ Premier League minutes in the 2021-22 season, Richarlison ranks below the league average for distance covered per 90 minutes (10.2km), sprints per 90 minutes (15.9), and distance sprinted per 90 minutes (248.6m). In both sprint categories, his total is half of the league leader Daniel James.
This doesn’t necessarily equate to a player that isn’t suited to Conte’s style. Despite these lower numbers, the Brazil international ranks more favourably in pressures. He is a player who likes to defend from the front along with his former team-mate and reported Spurs target Anthony Gordon.
Both feature in the top six for overall pressures per 90 and pressures on the player in possession per 90 in the league across all forwards and wingers to play at least 1,500 minutes last season.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of Richarlison’s pressures came in the attacking and midfield third, with his 38.2 per 90 behind only Emiliano Buendia (39.4) and Pablo Fornals (38.4) in the English top flight last season.
Premier League experience and this suitability to Conte’s style of play aren’t the only key traits Richarlison offers to this Spurs side – he also offers versatility. He played centrally and off the left in Everton’s front line last season, but he has played on the opposite flank and in a central attacking midfield position before.
With Tottenham hoping to be competing on all four fronts next season and the increase from three substitutions to five in Premier League games, Conte will be hoping that he can provide cover and competition in every position of his front three.
The data provides some evidence that Richarlison is at his most effective when playing on the left-hand side. He has scored 14 goals playing as a left winger in the Premier League – six fewer than he has scored playing as a striker but in 2,660 fewer minutes. The forward is also more creative on the left flank registering six assists in 2,979 minutes, compared to five assists in 7,165 minutes as a right winger and striker combined.
He ranks highest in every statistic below as a left winger, but the fact remains that he can still play a part in each of these three positions.
This versatility not only allows him to compete for game time with Heung-min Son, Harry Kane and Dejan Kulusevski, but it also could allow Antonio Conte to utilise his existing options in new roles. Son could get the chance to play the central striker role where he has previously shone in the absence of Kane, should the team be without Kane through injury or suspension at any point next season.
Kane could get the chance to test himself as a more traditional number 10, pulling the strings with two pacey central forwards ahead of him. Kulusevski might also get the chance to play in that role again, hopefully becoming that creative spark Spurs need to break down low blocks.
From Nova Venécia to the Champions League, Richarlison has seen an incredible rise throughout his career. He is a man who has been through incredibly challenging times and has earned every opportunity that has been afforded to him so far. Spurs are getting a player who quite often gets on the nerves of the opposition, but who always gives everything for the badge he wears on his chest.
At 25 years of age, he has so much more to offer and Antonio Conte is the perfect manager to help him realise the potential so many know he has.
We can simulate the performance of Richarlison at Tottenham using Stats Perform’s Transfer Portal, which models a player’s performance data within the context of their teams and leagues and predicts their performance across 13 offensive and defensive metrics following a simulated transfer to any new club. Here, our AI scientist Joe Gallagher explains the results.
In the figure below, the black-outlined bars show Richarlison’s simulated metrics as a winger at Everton over the next 1,000 minutes if he were to stay (e.g., he’s expected to rank at the 25th percentile of wingers in the Premier League in terms of expected goals). The coloured bars show Richarlison’s simulated metrics as a winger at Tottenham over the next 1,000 minutes if he were to leave (e.g., he’s expected to rank at around the 35th percentile of wingers in the Premier League in terms of xG).
As a winger at Spurs, we predict a modest increase in Richarlison’s xG, expected assists (xA), and penalty area entries per 90, but one which still sees him performing worse than well over half the other wingers in the Premier League – and much lower than Heung-Min Son (circular points), whose position at left wing Richarlison is likely to be competing for.
Only in terms of take-ons is Richarlison expected to outperform most of his team-mates, ranking around 75th percentile of Premier League wingers.
However, Transfer Portal can simulate any position that a player has been observed in. Since Richarlison played more minutes as a striker than as a winger for Everton in 2021-22 we can also predict his performance as a striker for Spurs.
Even if Conte is unlikely to deviate away from 3-4-3 formation and play Richarlison as part of a front two alongside Harry Kane, he may still rotate with Kane and/or play as a lone striker in other competitions next season.
Richarlison’s predictions are better as a striker than as a winger, ranking at around the 50th percentile of strikers for xG, xA, and penalty area entries, although still some way off Kane (triangular points) and Son (square points) in the striker role.
Richarlison’s take-ons – predicted as his most positive attribute as a winger – are much lower as a striker.
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