From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – The tale of Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Fulham on Saturday was played out in two acts.
The first was when everything was pretty much plain-sailing. Spurs were two goals to the good after 75 minutes – a little wasteful but twice on the scoresheet nonetheless – and Antonio Conte sought to rest Harry Kane for the rest of the afternoon after doubling the lead.
“Oh what a night” sang the jubilant home supporters on the eve of their club’s return to the Champions League. A muggy afternoon became a sunny one, a good day became a great day.
But when Richarlison’s acrobatic volley rattled the post and trickled all the way back across the goal line, a flip switched. Fulham went down the other end and, for the first time all afternoon, laid a glove on their hosts. Aleksandar Mitrovic had a quiet day, but dragged his side back into the match with a sumptuous curling strike.
With Kane on the bench and nerves jangling, Spurs had to hold their nerve for a further seven minutes of regulation and added six of stoppage time.
Richarlison, now playing a central role after starting on the right, continued to set a tempo that he had been beating all afternoon, pressing Fulham into errors and fighting for every ball like his life depended on it. His efforts didn’t go to waste as Tottenham closed out the victory with relative ease, lifting them to second in the table for the time being.
At 0-0 and 1-0, the Brazil international was a busy bee but remained in check, a professional performance more so than his usual provocative ones. If Tottenham were going to score, Richarlison was going to be involved somehow.
He grabbed the assist for Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s opener and was unlucky not to have found the net himself, scuffing a couple of first-half chances and having a late clincher ruled out by VAR for offside.
In Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski, Tottenham have one of the most complete attacking trios in European football. Critics balked at the £60m fee that Spurs could end up paying for Richarlison as it was unclear whether he would fit in or start.
But even in his cameos off the bench in August, it was clear that the 25-year-old was the exact profile that Spurs, for all of their flair and clinical finishing, were missing – a multifaceted menace who is as much a scoring threat as an off-ball s**thouse.
Richarlison’s first start against Fulham was proof that these first impressions weren’t down to a small sample size either – in a match where Son continued to fail to find the net and Kane became the joint-leading scorer in London derby history, Tottenham’s Brazilian number nine was the popular protagonist. He’s the heartbeat of their attack whenever he’s on the pitch.
Spurs face Marseille on Wednesday before travelling to Manchester City next weekend, and it’s hard to envisage a world where Richarlison doesn’t have a big say in proceedings if Tottenham leave with the points.