The Brazilian has hit the ground running this season and has been the catalyst to the Toffees winning six games in a row at the start of 2020/21.
He hobbled off in the last of those, a confident 4-1 victory over West Ham in Carabao Cup, and given how important he's been it will be a real blow if he has to sit out an extended period.
On Saturday against Crystal Palace he took a penalty, falling back on his heels and looking the ‘keeper in the eyes, but with just two more steps found the power to smash it past Vicente Guaita and into the top corner. The finish was the sign of a man brimming with confidence. And well he might be. 2020 is turning out to be a pretty good year to be Richarlison.
Off the pitch, he continues to endear himself to fans on both sides of the Atlantic. His comfortingly genuine interaction with Everton fans on social media is indicative of a man who truly values his connection with supporters and understands the joy he can bring people just by taking a few minutes from his day to post a message or a video.
In Brazil, his fundraising efforts for the University of Seo Paulo’s coronavirus vaccine research project only added to the favour he curried last year, when he paid for a group of state school kids from his home region to travel the International Mathematical Olympiad in Taiwan.
And on the pitch, especially since the start of the 2020/21 season, the quality of his performances is keeping pace with his ever-rising popularity. In the new role that Carlo Ancelotti has devised for him this season, the 23-year-old has excelled, grabbing two assists and three goals in four games, and showing signs that he is ready to repay the belief shown in him by his club and manager.
When the Toffees signed Richarlison for a reported £50m in the summer of 2018, after just one inconsistent Premier League season for Watford, there was a great deal of smirking and head shaking from pundits, journalists, and other clubs’ fans.
Richarlison, though, does not seem to have been bothered by any of it. He’s happy, he’s developing his game and he’s now starting to look like the one-hundred-million-pound-plus player that Everton believe he can become.
Over the last three seasons, the sense has been that the Brazilian’s attacking versatility, as useful as it is for his managers, has sometimes been to his own personal detriment. He has been used on the left and right a 4-2-3-1, the left and right of a 4-3-3 and through the middle in a 4-4-2. Look at his season heat maps from the last few campaigns and there are red dots all over the pitch.
After the arrivals of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan and in particular James Rodriguez, though, Ancelotti’s starting line-up and Richarlison’s role in it are more clearly defined.
Out of possession, Richarlison is being asked to defend as a left midfielder would in a 4-2-3-1, to press initially before getting back to protect Lucas Digne from the advances of the opposition full-back.
When Everton regain the ball, he is asked to use his express pace to make that darting movement from left to centre – a run that is called the ‘facão’, or ‘big knife’, in Brazil – to latch onto James’ balls in behind the defence and link up with Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the penalty area.
It is a plan that highlights the 23-year-old’s positive attributes – his pace, his willingness to work, and his ability to receive the ball at high speed – and has given Everton a new-found cutting edge.
The sample size is small, it must be said, but the objective measures of his performance suggest he is benefitting significantly from less ambiguous demands (and the quality of delivery his new Colombian teammate brings, of course).
Those two assists and three goals – and his additional new role as Ancelotti’s first-choice penalty taker – imply that he will comfortably surpass last season’s total of four assists and 15 goals.
Additionally, he has completed 4.7 dribbles per 90 minutes this season, compared to 1.8 last term, is taking 4.3 shots per 90 compared to 2.9 last season and is having 9 touches in the box per match as opposed to 6 in 2019-20.
His defensive contribution has improved too if the early evidence is anything to go by. The number of tackles he is making and the number of times he is recovering the ball per game have both risen by around 50%.
There are still areas in which he could improve – most notably the quality of his shooting – but at 23, there is still time enough.
The interesting question for those looking on from his homeland now is how that form and function will translate for the Seleção. Will Brazil boss Tite move Neymar infield so that the Everton talisman can start from the left, or might he see him as the best option for the centre-forward role given that Roberto Firmino has never looked truly comfortable in the canary yellow shirt?
The upcoming international break will provide us with the answer, but for now, back on Merseyside, Richarlison is more than content at his club. His manager has found a way to get the best from him and if he can maintain his brilliant start to this campaign, he will soon be talked about in the same breath as the world’s elite wide attackers.