Prior to grabbing a consolation goal in Everton’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, Richarlison was enduring the longest scoreless run of his Toffees career.
For eight long Premier League games, the Brazilian had tried and failed to find the back of the net, a period that coincided with some of Everton’s worst results of the season. Richarlison drew blanks as the Toffees lost a crunch clash against West Ham, and also failed to net in poor defeats against Newcastle and Fulham.
Alternating between left forward and striker in the absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a lack of service was clearly one problem – he failed to register a single shot in three of these eight games – but questions also have to be asked of his wider performance. In the Newcastle match in particular he was missing his usual clinical edge, not converting any of his four chances, while he only registered three key passes during this entire scoreless run.
This downturn in offensive productivity was nothing new. Across his fledgling Premier League career, Richarlison’s work rate and pressing ability has never faltered but he has tended to score in bursts. In the past this has been tolerated, but this season, Everton have their best ever chance of breaking into the top four, so expectations for the 23-year-old are at an all-time high.
In the Toffees’ last two league games, the forward has started to put to bed any notions that he is feeling this increased pressure, finally looking back to his inspirational self going forward. His transformation began in an FA Cup fifth round tie against Tottenham.
In that truly bonkers contest, the teams shared nine goals in 120 minutes, two of which were scored by Richarlison. The first was a powerful, low shot from just outside the box, while the second was a miraculous left-footed finish, which satisfyingly clunked the post as it went in.
The fine pair of goals suggested that the ruthless Brazilian’s confidence was returning and this quickly translated into improved Premier League form. After netting that aforementioned consolation against Manchester City, Richarlison scored his second ever Merseyside Derby goal, giving his side the lead inside three minutes.
The strike was the result of excellent centre-forward play. Spotting space in behind, Richarlison darted across Ozan Kabak and, after taking a microsecond to check the position of Alisson, fired the ball into the bottom corner.
The early strike lended itself perfectly to Everton’s gameplan, with Ancelotti’s side soaking up the Reds’ pressure without too many problems, before adding a second from the penalty spot near the end.
In his side’s very next Premier League game, Richarlison was at it again, netting the only goal in his team’s 1-0 victory over Southampton. In similar vein to his derby day strike, he slipped in behind the Saints backline, before rounding Alex McCarthy and smashing home from a tight angle.
Again, this early goal provided a resolute Toffees side with the platform they needed to secure the three points and draw level on points with Liverpool with a game in hand – something that would have beyond unthinkable at the start of the season.
Ancelotti’s Toffees operate at fine margins. They rarely blow teams away and only four sides – Burnley, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and West Brom – have averaged fewer shots per game in the Premier League this season.
Having a lethal finisher – or two, let us not forget Dominic Calvert-Lewin – to rely on is vital for the way they play. Richarlison’s glow up has come at the perfect time for Everton and his continued mercilessness will be vital if they are to break into the top four.