Why Richarlison has to play on the left

The transfer fee for the 21-year-old was one of the big talking points of the summer, with multiple pundits and Evertonians (including myself) slating The Toffees business once again. A great way to justify spending big was from Stats Bomb’s Mike Goodman (who wrote an article at the time of the transfer), saying “Pay for what a player is going to produce, don’t pay for what they’ve already done”. That being the case, Richarlison’s influence in this Everton team is priceless, everything runs through him and he’s involved in almost every attacking move. Five months on and the Brazilian has almost doubled his scoring tally in comparison to last season and is Everton’s top-scorer of the season.

So why are we discussing where he should play? As long as he is scoring, surely it shouldn’t matter?

Before October, Richarlison was starting games on the left, had scored 3 times and performing well, but an underperforming Cenk Tosun and Bernard being fully fit led to Marco Silva rotating his frontline with the Brazilian moving upfront. Since then, that’s where Richarlison has been playing but is it where we get the best out of him?

In terms of Expected Goals, Richarlison is ranked quite differently between data analytics, according to Paul Riley’s Premier League shot map, he is ranked 27th in the Premier League which only Gyfli Sigurdsson could better. Looking at his shots between the different positions he has played in is quite interesting.

Richarlison’s shot map in games where he’s started on the left, prior to the match versus Watford. 

Here is his shot map from playing on the left-wing. His shooting has thoroughly improved in comparison to last season, a lot more strikes being taken closer to goal and you can see a good access towards goal. A big part of this is due to him cutting in onto his stronger foot, opening up a much better chance of scoring. According to understat, his xG per 90 minutes is on 0.49, so he produces good quality shots from playing in this position.

Richarlison’s shot map in games where he’s started upfront, prior to match versus Watford.

Here is his shot map when he’s started upfront (worth noting, he’s played 300 more minutes upfront than out on the wing), Richarlison produces fewer shots inside of the penalty area and of much less quality. Not only does he have a lower xG90 (0.33 up front) but he also produces fewer shots (upfront, 1.75 per 90, on the left, 3.82 per90).

Although Richarlison has scored the same amount of goals on the left and at striker, it’s quite clear that if you want the best out of his goalscoring ability, playing him out wide and having an actual striker up front is the much better alternative.

We can see where much of his game is taken away as well when starting as a striker, instead of dropping deep, making tackles and carrying the ball from the midfield third, Richarlison is forced to go into more aerial duels against more players around him.

Not only is he fed less of the ball but when he gets it, he doesn’t have much room to manoeuvre or support to help him. Here is a good example against Watford, Coleman has the ball in space and has a few options around him. The Watford players know what the Everton’s aim is and have Richarlison zonal-marked out of the game.  

If Richarlison’s touch is poor, it’ll either send the ball backwards and away from the goal or they could instantly recover possession, but even if his first touch is fine, he will still have at least one of four players pressing on him instantly. He will still have players marking him out on the left, but in no way would it be on this sort of scale nor difficult to try and produce something.

No matter where Richarlison gets the ball on the pitch, he always had one or two players on him, which makes it extremely difficult for players to link with him.

Here you see Richarlison getting pressed and disposed twice in the matter of a few seconds. When receiving the ball, the Brazilian doesn’t have many passing lanes open for him and is either to be reduced to a back pass or simply loses the ball. Watford’s game plan caused Everton so many problems, the Brazilian had 43 touches of the ball but only completed 9 passes throughout the game.

He did score, but he struggled to make an impact after giving Everton the lead and it hasn’t been the first time this season, he’s gone missing when starting up front. Against both Crystal Palace and Cardiff, he struggled, which isn’t entirely his fault as Everton have always had a problem when facing low-block teams but mustering just three shots between both games isn’t an impressive record.

Everton still has a dilemma with their attack, the front line of Richarlison, Sigurdsson, Bernard and Walcott have all spent very little time at the club and have only started a number of games which each other at Goodison Park. They are far from clicking with each other, but the attacking dilemma now is much better than the attacking dilemma 12 months ago. Marco Silva needs to start rotating with his front line, starting with putting Richarlison back out on the left and binning this 4231, which other teams are starting to expose.

It would be nice to see Calvert-Lewin back in the picture upfront, or even a system that includes Cenk Tosun, but a mass rotation of this fresh, new squad could potentially do more harm than good. One thing is for certain, if you want the best out of Richarlison, put him back in his natural position.

Stats via @footballfactman and understat.com,

Up the Toffees.

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