Sport

Richarlison gives Spurs the depth they need to compete on all fronts

Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Fulham on Saturday was crucial in more ways than one. Having been held to a turgid 1-1 draw with West Ham last week, Spurs needed an immediate response and the team duly delivered. The scoreline flattered Fulham, who faced 23 shots, 10 of which were on target. Six games into the season, Tottenham are one of two unbeaten teams in the league, along with Manchester City, and they are just a point behind the leaders.

The victory over Fulham highlighted the strength in depth in Antonio Conte’s squad. The manager made five changes, giving Clément Lenglet and Richarlison their full debuts for Spurs. Both were key in securing the three points, with the latter earning ample praise from his manager. “Richy played really well,” Conte raved after the game. “Richy is strong player. You feel his personality on the pitch. He’s a warrior, a fighter and we need this type of player.”

With the club back in the Champions League this season, Spurs needed to recruit players in a few areas across the pitch this summer, most notably in the final third. Conte has his tried-and-tested front three, with Son Heung-Min and Dejan Kulusevski flanking Harry Kane superbly, and their form in the second half of last season was vital in securing a top-four finish.

Yet, beyond that triumvirate, quality options were thin on the ground. Lucas Moura has never been prolific in a Spurs shirt – he has scored 38 goals in 204 appearances for the club, one in every five – and Steven Bergwijn, despite his late heroics against Leicester back in January, was always likely to leave the club in the summer. Spurs needed to bring in a goalscorer in the transfer window and Richarlison fits the bill perfectly.

The 25-year-old offers cover in all three attacking roles. Conte opted to rest Kulusevski against Fulham with one eye on his team’s Champions League meeting with Marseille on Wednesday night. Even then, Conte was able to bring on Kulusevski for the last 12 minutes and give Kane a rest. This might not sound momentous but it was just the second time since the start of last season that Kane had been subbed off in a league match, the other coming in Spurs’ victory over Crystal Palace on Boxing Day when they were already 2-0 up against 10 men at home.

Richarlison’s arrival means Spurs are equally dangerous beyond their first XI. The Brazilian played the final 12 minutes of Spurs’ win over Fulham on Saturday as the lead striker, with Son and Kulusevski in support. At long last, Spurs had a top-notch option to provide cover for Kane on the frontline. When Kane has been sidelined in the past, Son has been asked to spearhead the charge, but he is better coming inside from the left flank. With Richarlison playing as the focal point of the team, the performances of other players do not dip.

Richarlison offers a different threat to the other forwards at Conte’s disposal. Kane’s willingness to drop deep into the spaces between the midfield and attack allows Son and Kulusevski to cut infield and maximise the vacated space to good effect, while his prolificacy means he will start every game when fit. Kulusevski, meanwhile, relies on his close control to help Spurs tick in the final third.

Richarlison may not be as technically astute as his Swedish counterpart, though he is not far off. He also offers the hustle and bustle that is sometimes missing from the Spurs attack. The former Everton forward does not give defenders a moment’s respite when he is hounding markers. That energy is particularly important when he comes off the bench and can target tiring defenders.

He is the perfect addition when Conte needs his team to up the ante. Against Chelsea, Spurs were sluggish and timid going forward. That changed immediately when the energetic Richarlison was introduced and the team rescued a late point. He was introduced against Nottingham Forest when the newly promoted side were pushing for an equaliser and he played a key role in killing the game off, picking out Kane with a perfect outside-of-the-boot cross from the left wing.

It’s no wonder, then, that Richarlison has quickly become a fan favourite. He’s the archetypal Conte striker and supporters love him for it. The game plan changes when Richarlison comes in for Kane, but this is not a bad thing. Having a different option up front gives the Italian the opportunity to tinker with his system and the ability to change a game in his side’s favour.

In the build-up to Spurs’ opening fixture in the Champions League, Conte said his players are facing a “crazy, incredible schedule”, adding that it was “maybe the first time in my career to see a schedule like this”. With a long season ahead and a return to Champions League adding extra pressure, Conte needed another forward who is at the level of his first-choice trio.

Richarlison offers that quality and his all-action attitude lifts the fans and his teammates. Whether starting games or coming off the bench, the Brazilian gives his all when called upon. Spurs fans have been waiting to win a trophy for nearly 15 years. Richarlison may prove a vital addition as they look to end their lengthy silverware drought.

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