When Harry Kane left just a few days ahead of the start of the 2023-24 Premier League season, it immediately left Tottenham Hotspur with a huge void to fill. Not only did they need to replace the 30 league goals he brought last season but they also were tasked with figuring out a solution on how to alter the nucleus of their squad. Bringing in Ange Postecoglou was a clear change in direction, with Spurs attempting to improve the style of play and to bring the ethos of the club back to one that offers stylish and attacking football.
Selling Kane with a year left on his deal rather than him likely leaving for free next year was certainly an intelligent financial decision from Spurs even though it cost them their best player and one who would undoubtedly benefit from Postecoglou’s tactics. Obviously there is likely no other striker in the world that can offer what Kane can. Not only is he among one of the deadliest finishers in the world but he has also been the creative engine for years now for Spurs, really since Christian Eriksen left the club in the January window of 2020.
But under Postecoglou, Tottenham’s fortunes will be much more based off team performance, rather than the individualism of any one player, even Kane. Last season at Celtic, Japanese international Kyogo Furuhashi bagged the bulk of the goals for the Scottish champions. Whereas Kane has ideal size for the striker position and has really improved his fitness since his struggles with ankle injuries, Furuhashi is a smaller player at 5’7” whose profile fits as much more as a poacher than a natural No. 9 like Kane.
While the Scottish Premiership is not the most spectacular league in terms of competition, Postecoglou’s side netted 114 goals while comfortably winning the league and completing a domestic treble in the process. With the way Spurs are beginning to look under Ange, there is no question that Kane would have netted a ridiculous number of goals. His absence certainly leaves a hole that Spurs unfortunately may never completely fill and that is not an slight on Richarlison, who has gotten the nod in both of Tottenham’s first Premier League games.
Richarlison is certainly a talented player who can operate in a variety of ways across a club’s attack. However, it has really been a failure to launch so far in his tenure at Spurs despite the hefty price tag they paid for him last summer. He seems a bit forced into this current role, but the truth is that he may just be the best option Spurs have at this moment in time.
Once again Tottenham as a club do not employ multiple striker options, but that worry is suppressed at least for now considering how Spurs have looked in the early days of this year’s season. The main concern for Spurs so far this season has been that their front 3 has yet to score a goal. While it is only two games, end product will be vital from the likely starting options of Heung-min Son, Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski. The early evidence has shown that Spurs’ midfield is vastly superior this season in comparison to last year; Yves Bissouma looks like a new player and James Maddison has been exceptional in the first two games. But the attack still looks a little out of sorts.
In Saturday’s win against Manchester United, Richarlison had just 24 touches – the least of any starting players for Spurs. The same happened against Brentford as well as Richarlison had only 30 touches – again the least of any starting players for Spurs outside of Christian Romero who left after just a few minutes due to injury. After being subbed off against United, it was clear that Richarlison was not the happiest of campers, but he confirmed after the match that it had more to do with his play rather than the decision himself. In 69 minutes before being subbed off, he never once looked likely to score outside of a fortunate second chance where the ball fell to him at an awkward angle and he failed to connect. Additionally, he didn’t contribute any xG to the side.
With only a few days left before the close of the window, it looks unlikely that Spurs will bring in another player or two. And even if they did, they would likely need time to integrate themselves in the squad. That means in the short term the club is committed to finding solutions with Richarlison or Son operating as center forward. When Richarlison was subbed off, Son came central and Ivan Perišić took over his role. Son looked a bit more lively but that was also against a stretched United defense who were chasing the game at the time.
Postecoglou may not see it as imperative to “use” Richarlison, as he mentioned they failed to do against Brentford and then occurred again against United. The reality is that under Postecoglu whomever plays center forward may not receive as much service as what we — or they — are used to. But that might not be as bad a thing as it sounds — see Kyogo Furuhashi as an example of that. Last season, Furuhashi was not an integral figure when Celtic were building up play. Only once last season did he have a league match with more than five shots, and he still finished the year as the league’s top scorer with 27 goals from just 87 shot attempts (42 on target). Also look no further than his five starts for Ange’s Celtic team in the Champions League:
- 9/14/2022 against Shakhtar: 12 touches in 67 minutes
- 10/15/2022 against Leipzig: 14 touches in 81 minutes
- 10/11/2022 against Leipzig: 22 touches in 65 minutes
- 10/25/2022 against Shakhtar: 24 touches in 65 minutes
- 11/2/2022 against Real Madrid: 12 touches in 62 minutes
While the level of competition in these five matches certainly did not help Celtic’s cause, these numbers are a little staggering and are providing some similarities to Richarlison’s early touch numbers under Ange.
For Richarlison, success on the pitch will obviously be determined by his goal output. He is the starting No. 9 at the international level for Brazil and has shown the ability to score for his country, so the malaise in form may frustrate him in the early going. The key is efficiency — if he doesn’t get many opportunities, it will be especially important that he converts the chances he gets. For my money, I think Spurs need to persist with their current starting 11 and continue to let them gain comfort in the system and with one another. Plus, starting the year on the road against Brentford and home against United is not the easiest of tasks but the club has come out of it in a good situation with two promising league matches, away at both Bournemouth and Burnley with a cup tie against Fulham nestled between.
Tottenham could pursue a prospect such as Gift Orban but with time there’s every chance Richarlison will come good if Spurs continue to play the way they’re playing. It is not the most fair situation for Richarlison given the enormous shoes he is being asked to fill, but he is certainly the best option at this moment for the club.
Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.