When Richarlison (£7.8m) was rightly sent off for a high challenge on Thiago late in the Merseyside Derby, I was despondent. As an Everton fan, I knew it would lead to ten minutes of constant Liverpool pressure and probably a late winner. I had seen it many times before in derbies, including last season when Jordan Pickford inexplicably palmed a ball going out of play into the path of the gleeful Divock Origi.
But my disappointment was about more than just one very important game – I knew that we would suffer whilst Richarlison was suspended. No player in our squad can provide his level of combative directness and dynamism.
Without Richarlison, Everton lost the next three to Southampton, Newcastle, and Manchester United, conceding seven times and scoring only twice. This represented a significant downturn for a side that scored 14 times in the first 7 matches and sat top of the league over the first international break.
The drop off in Everton’s goalscoring is mirrored by regression in the underlying statistics. In Gameweeks 1-5, Everton had the third-highest xG in the league, at 9.94 goals. They had 42 shots inside the box during the period, and created a big chance every 29.8 minutes, with 16 in total.
In Gameweeks 6-8, Everton’s xG figure fell to 2.22, the fifth-lowest in the league during the three-game period. Everton only created one big chance over the 289 minutes of football, mustering just 17 shots inside the box. Those watching Everton would have noticed an isolated Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.8m) forced into foraging for scraps.
There is a little more to this than Richarlison’s absence alone of course. Playmaker James Rodriguez (£7.9m) was injured in the Liverpool match, and struggled for fitness during the period, missing the Newcastle game. These fixtures were more difficult than they may have seemed too – Southampton have looked more solid since they were thrashed by Spurs, keeping four clean sheets in the last six matches, whilst United have won their last eight league matches away from home.
However, these circumstances aside, the drop off is noteworthy. We should be wary of making big statements over small data samples, but the eye test and the stats show a clear regression. Everton were always going to regress – I knew my days of chanting ‘top of the league’ to my bemused girlfriend were numbered, but the extent of the regression has much to do with the absence of Richarlison, as his own impressive attacking statistics further illustrate.
Richarlison was 10th among all players for shots in the box in the first 5 Gameweeks with 12 in total and had four big chances. Only five players managed more than his 32 penalty area touches whilst he also created a modest four chances. The Brazilian was good value for his four attacking returns.
These stats are relatively consistent with Richarlison’s form under manager Carlo Ancelotti. He had 34 shots inside the box in the final 20 gameweeks of last season, following the Italian’s appointment. This was the 12th highest in the league and notably higher than Sadio Mané (£12.1m) and only three less than the age-defying Jamie Vardy (£10.1m). Richarlison was only afforded five big chances during the period but created nine – a total only bettered by three players. For the past year, he has been one of the league’s best all-round attacking players.
Defending from the Front
There is another lesser appreciated part of Richarlison’s game – his willingness to pressure opponents and to win the ball back in dangerous areas. This season he managed a recovery, on average, every 10.4 minutes. To put this in perspective – he recovered more balls per match than Everton’s ball-winning midfield Allan (£5.4m) whilst only one regular starting striker, Michail Antonio (£6.2m), recovered at a better rate. His ball-winning instincts so often help Everton turnover possession, instigating counter-attacks.
Richarlison also won 14 fouls in the first five gameweeks, many of them in the final third, with only one striker (Antonio again) earning more. This is particularly fruitful for an Everton side who thrive off set-piece situations, with two of the league’s best dead-ball specialists in James and Lucas Digne (£6.1m) and a significant aerial threat.
Everton have badly missed Richarlison. They’ve missed his recoveries, his ability to drive at players, and the runs in between full back and centre back which James so often picked out in the opening weeks.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and James Rodriguez
It has been much easier to stifle Everton without Richarlison, and Calvert-Lewin and Rodriguez have suffered. But Richarlison’s return boosts the prospects of two of the game’s highest scoring players. Calvert-Lewin will have a strike partner again when play allows it, James will have many opportunities to pick out Richarlison, and opposing defences will have to deal with one of the league’s most tenacious players, freeing up Calvert-Lewin and James in the process. Despite Everton’s struggles, only Vardy has had more big chances than Calvert-Lewin this season whilst only Harry Kane (£11.0m) and Jack Grealish (£7.5m) have created more big chances than James.
The days of two Everton attackers, or even one, may be numbered with difficult fixtures on the horizon. Many have already sold off the back of underwhelming performances. But next up Everton play Fulham and Leeds, two of the league’s most obliging defences, before travelling to relegation-threatened Burnley. Those on wildcards, or with extra transfers, should not discount Everton assets. Whilst some will see these recent troubling statistics as a reversion to type, I expect Richarlison’s return to boost Everton. At their best, Ancelotti’s Everton are a vibrant attacking outfit who are sure to offer superb value at points this season.