Antonio Conte has hailed Richarlison’s performance against Marseille in the Champions League as an example of why Tottenham Hotspur signed the Brazilian.
Tottenham were marking their return to the Champions League after a two-season absence and it was a tough start against a Marseille side that were unbeaten in the league this season, sitting second in Ligue 1 with five wins and one draw — a remarkable achievement considering the tumultuous summer they had with Jorge Sampaoli leaving.
But Tottenham have had their own start of the season to be proud of, one of two teams still unbeaten in the Premier League after six matches, and just one point behind leaders Arsenal. In Antonio Conte’s first full season in charge of Tottenham, the north London club have truly come into their own and look to be genuine contenders across multiple competitions. The components had been there, they just needed the final touches and a bit of Italian finesse.
One of the final touches came this summer with the arrival of Richarlison, for £50m from Everton, to bolster their attack. For too long, Tottenham have been over-reliant on Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, faltering when the duo were having bad patches of form or time on the sidelines. In January, Conte added Dejan Kulusevski to complete a frightening attacking trio, replacing the underwhelming Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn. And now he has options.
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Richarlison has been made to wait for his opportunity, only getting his first competitive start for Tottenham at the weekend in their 2-1 win over Fulham, but he had made an impact before that. The Brazilian registered an assist in the 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest, setting up Harry Kane’s second, and he provided again against Fulham for Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s opener.
Some believed Richarlison was starting against Fulham at the weekend to give Kulusevski a rest and if that was the case, his performance was enough to earn him a second consecutive start, this time for his Champions League debut. And it was a debut to remember, as the Brazilian settled the game for Tottenham.
It was a frustrating match for Tottenham as Marseille set up to prevent their hosts from scoring, and it worked until the 76th minute, even with Chancel Mbemba sent off just after half-time. However, Marseille couldn’t hold off forever and Richarlison broke the deadlock with a header from Ivan Perisic’s cross to become the 39th Brazilian to score on his Champions League debut, more than any other nation in the competition’s history.
But Richarlison wasn’t done there. Another header secured the win and Richarlison became the first Brazilian to score a brace on his Champions League debut since Oscar netted twice in Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Juventus in 2012.
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And this is exactly why Tottenham signed Richarlison.
“We signed Richi because I think to exploit the best quality of team and support three strikers,” Antonio Conte told reporters.
“Last season when you have team with Sonny, Harry and Deki (Kulusevski), behind player like Lucas, we tried to sign a player that was able to play in all three positions. For this reason we didn’t have any doubt to sign him and we did it quickly because our idea and ambition was very clear.
“He is more striker than Deki but at same time he can play in Son position, Kane position, Deki position. This is very important for sure as when you make rotation you don’t drop quality.”
Conte added: “He deserved to have a night like this. I remember very well when we signed him he said he cannot wait to listen to Champions League music and play in competition. This morning I said I remember what he said and you have your opportunity and chance. I think he did his best.”