“He is the spirit inside our dressing room,” was how Marco Silva recently described Richarlison.
Today, he was the embodiment of the man fighting in the dugout.
When a victory was most badly needed, never has one been so deserved as Silva’s players produced their best performance of the season to dominate West Ham and win a league game for the first time in six weeks.
The margin of the triumph could, and should, have been more resounding, more emphatic and more of a statement for the under-fire Silva, such was the gulf in class, but when you’ve lost the last four, you take – and celebrate – a win any which way you can.
He said as much himself.
Anyone believing that this group players have stopped playing for the manager, needs to watch the tape of this because any doubts were trampled upon – not that it was ever in doubt where the rampaging Richarlison is concerned.
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There were stand-out displays from several: Yerry Mina is fast becoming the darling of Goodison, Alex Iwobi was a constant threat as a No10 and Andre Gomes was back to his peak of last term.
Tom Davies, alongside him, Lucas Digne, the scorer of the opening goal Bernard, Djibril Sidibe….you could list so many more but nobody carried the fight quite like the young Brazilian forward.
It’s not the first time Richarlison has gritted his teeth and delivered a tireless, sleeves-rolled-up, selfless performance for his team and, more pointedly in the context of today, his manager.
In his hour of need, Silva may have made a bold change in dropping Gylfi Sigurdsson but in many ways, he also went back to what he knows. What he knew he could rely on for such an occasion – playing Richarlison upfront.
It is not in his long-term thinking, it remains an option, but he still sees the 22-year-old as playing on the right of left but on this high-stakes afternoon, he clearly felt he could not start with either Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Moise Kean.
It is too strong to say that preferring Richarlison over either was a desperate move that but it was certainly a decision born out of necessity as he headed into a “must-win” game.
(Image: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
Kean needs time, plenty of it, before he is fully up to speed and though Calvert-Lewin has four goals in all competitions, his form, naturally, is up and down.
He was disappointing at Burnley (weren’t they all?) and paid the price by being dropped.
Silva will tell you that Richarlison is not the long-term answer to Everton’s No9 dilemma but today, in the context of this 90 plus minutes – and maybe next weekend too – he was.
Today, to borrow the manager’s phrase, he provided a solution to one of Silva’s problems.
Richarlison has made an inconsistent start to the season but the Portuguese coach knew his pace and power would stretch West Ham’s defence, he knew he could play on the shoulder of the last man and force them into starting deeper to allow his midfield more time and space and he knew, what we all do, is that he would scrap and scrap and scrap for every last morsel.
In performing all three of those tasks, he was exceptional.
But fittingly, he also chipped in defensively – especially in the most nervous moment of the game.
Marco Silva speaks out on players and pressure after dominant Everton beat West Ham HERE
There weren’t too many for a dominant Everton who had more of the ball, had 19 shots, 11 of which were on target and sent in 11 corners.
But it was the two West Ham won that caused most panic. Everton’s poor record at defending set-pieces has been a heavy stick with which to beat Silva but it took until the 83 minute before his side were called upon to deal with a corner here.
It should have been a goal-kick, replays confirmed, and handball should have been given against Angelo Ogbonna when bringing it down, but he was allowed to get his stabbed shot off.
Mina partially blocked it but, mercifully, Jordan Pickford reacted to push the deflected effort out.
West Ham quickly won another corner and Goodison held it’s breath fearing the worst but Manuel Lanzini’s cross was strongly headed away by Richarlison.
He was putting up the fight at both ends of the pitch. He led the line, won free-kicks in important moments, won headers all over the pitch, won his share of 50-50s and walked off after this win with three points and battle scars to show for his afternoon’s work.
It is understandable that Iwobi, Mina and Gomes will have vied for the man-of-the-match plaudits given their fine displays but the influence of Richarlison did not, and cannot, go unnoticed.
The closest the £35m man came to scoring was when he hit the foot of the post in the first-half after an Iwobi pass played him in and, then, had a goal ruled out for offside after meeting Digne’s cross.
That he left the pitch having failed to score will gnaw away him tonight and in the week leading up to the trip to Brighton, it’s the way he is and Silva is trying to ease the pressure he puts on himself.
And part of that task has to be reminding how vital he was to this, and how important he is to Silva.
Silva first asked Richarlison to lead the line at a similar point, and in similar circumstances, to last season, it was after seven games and with only nine points.
He would go onto start 11 league games as a centre-forward, with Everton winning five and drawing two.
Today, start No12 as Everton’s striker, yielded win six and none of others can have been more significant.
The spirit in Everton’s dressing room and, today, their warrior on the pitch.