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Everton should stick with Richarlison up front for now

The Brazilian is not a natural striker but is Everton’s biggest threat. At least until the January transfer window, he should stay up top

Everton FC v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Richarlison hit a brace against Brighton on Saturday
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

With every rendition of Richarlison’s ‘pigeon dance’, the further into ancient history the horrors of last campaign are being consigned.

After a season in which Everton played an awful lot of awful football, the Brazilian has helped resurrect a painfully sterile club, while rendering the ill-fated reigns of Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce a distant memory.

Many scoffed at the reported £50 million fee Marco Silva sanctioned to be reunited with the former Watford man, who did not manage a single goal or assist after the Portuguese manager was sacked by the Hornets in January.

But since his competitive debut for the Blues, the 2-2 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers in which he netted a brace, Richarlison has embodied Everton’s transformation on the pitch from the lifeless, inept ragtag last term to the vibrant, dynamic outfit gracing the Goodison turf for much of this season.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Everton FC - Premier League
Richarlison marked his full Everton debut with a brace at Wolves
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Though he initially impressed in his natural position on the left wing, his keen eye for goal led to him replacing the toiling Cenk Tosun up front in early October, an experiment which so far has yielded mixed results.

Richarlison has led the line for the Blues in the last four games, book-ended by Saturday’s win against Brighton & Hove Albion and the away victory at Leicester City; in the former he scored twice and the latter he broke the deadlock in.

While he excelled in his new role in these two games, the pair of matches sandwiched in-between were less encouraging.

In the home win against Crystal Palace, he struggled to get the better of towering central defenders Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins, and despite winning a penalty in the loss at Manchester United, he was inarguably not his usual effervescent self.

But to see just how much Richarlison offers this side, look no further than his first goal, the opener, against Brighton & Hove Albion. From a Seagulls corner, the Blues broke with the sort of speed and urgency which, last season, would have been unprecedented.

Gylfi Sigurðsson played a perfectly weighted pass down the wing to the electrifying Bernard, who returned it to the Icelandic international, by which time Richarlison was already in the penalty area, ready to receive the ball. When Sigurðsson obliged, he duly slammed it home.

Everton FC v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Richarlison, Sigurðsson and Bernard combined to create Everton’s opener against Brighton
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Consider also the results, or lack thereof, which the side have suffered in his absence. After receiving a three-match ban for a red card at Bournemouth in August, Richarlison missed the following home game to bottom club Huddersfield Town, from which an anaemic, one-dimensional Everton earned a dissatisfying 1-1 draw.

He then missed West Ham United’s visit to Goodison Park, a side who had not earned a single point for their previous four league games, but who subsequently outplayed a terrible Everton and deservedly left as 3-1 winners.

It is unfair to discredit Tosun because what he has lacked in end product this season, he has compensated for in endeavour and industry.

But given the Turk’s blatant lack of pace, it is difficult to imagine this move proving quite as fruitful had he been in Richarlison’s position at the time; in the two games he has scored while up front, he has managed more goals than Tosun in all of his 12 appearances this season.

Against a solid opposition, who arrived at Goodison on the back of three straight 1-0 wins, the 21-year-old toyed with Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, a centre-back partnership regarded by some as one of the league’s best outside of the gilded ‘top six’.

Duffy himself even acknowledged post-match that the former Toffee simply had no answer to his trickery:

This should by no means signal the end of Tosun’s time on Merseyside, though; he has endured a tough start to his first full season at Everton, but offers an entirely different, more physical approach to the vivacious Richarlison, which will prove useful when the Blues come unstuck.

Whereas Sakho and Tomkins marshalled Richarlison well in the victory over Palace, Tosun, having come off the bench, chased down a long ball, was strong enough to escape the duo’s grasp, and battered the ball into the Gwladys Street net.

There will be days when Everton’s attack will not flow as smoothly as it did against Brighton. When that scenario arises, as it did against Palace, it will serve the Blues well to have a variety of options to try out.

Even if Tosun may not be the long-term remedy to the striking woes besetting Everton since the departure of Romelu Lukaku, it is vital for Silva to be able to turn to a ‘plan B’, be it through him, the improving Dominic Calvert-Lewin or, to a lesser extent, the erratic yet effective Oumar Niasse.

Everton FC v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Tosun’s finish against Palace shows he still has much to offer Everton
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Moving Richarlison up top has also enabled Silva to work Bernard into the side as the replacement for his compatriot’s spot on the left flank. Despite both only joining the Blues in the summer, there already seems a genuine rapport between them on the pitch.

Bernard still lacks match fitness, having not previously played competitive football since March before his Blues debut in August, but his blistering speed and intelligence on the ball is, again, a far cry from the dearth of ideas plaguing Everton last season. As he and Richarlison play together more often, the results will only be even more fruitful.

Richarlison still has clear detractors to his game - regardless of where he is playing, an immaturity and petulance in his game remains, as shown by reacting to the provocation from AFC Bournemouth’s Adam Smith in August, resulting in the aforementioned red card.

At times he can also frustrate by refusing to pass the ball; as if he is trying too hard, almost, to craft a goal entirely through his own work.

But, as Silva acknowledged on Friday, he is playing out of his natural domain, something he has only done a handful of times in what is still an embryonic career:

“[He has] some things to improve, but this is normal. It’s not a new position to him but it’s something he didn’t do often in the last two seasons, and just some moments this season as well. Now he’s doing it more often, even in training sessions as well.

“He can give important things for us, he is different to Cenk, [Oumar] Niasse or Dominic [Calvert-Lewin]. He’s doing well in his attitude and behaviour.

Richarlison may be having to learn on the job, but so far few could argue he has made more than a decent fist of it; not least his manager, whose faith in the player seems as unwavering as it is genuine.

At least until the transfer window reopens in January, when Everton can sign a bona fide number nine who is an upgrade on Tosun, Calvert-Lewin and Niasse, the brilliant Brazilian is surely the way forward up top.