Senor Conte’s popularity at AANP Towers has dropped in recent weeks at a rate that would have lead balloons looking on enviously, but if he were aiming to worm his way back into AANP’s affections (this no doubt being amongst his primary concerns) his inclusion of Richarlison from the off was a smart move.
And the Brazilian didn’t disappoint. The headlines alone attest to this – with a goal pedantically disallowed, a penalty won and some robust spots of jiggery-pokery in the build-up to two other goals all featuring on his CV. Had he contributed nothing else of note these would have been worth the entrance fee, but it was Richarlison’s broader performance that prompted a spot of proud avuncular clucking from this end.
Ask me for the likely tactical instruction bestowed upon the chap and you’d be treated to one of my blanker looks, as it wasn’t particularly clear to me whether he were being asked to fulfil specific duties in specific situations. I mean, presumably he had all sorts of tactical equations ringing in his ears, as Conte hasn’t really come across to date as the sort of egg who will simply give a shrug and tell his players just to go out on the pitch and make it up as they go along.
So it is safe to assume that Richarlison was under various orders, to be in certain places at certain times and whatnot, but aside from all those specifics I was taken by the more general way he set about his business. He seemed to adopt an attitude that if a job were worth doing, it were worth doing with energy and aggression. His To-Do List seemed to include both exploratory trips into the right-hand side of the final third, and the less glamorous business of nibbling at opponents when we were out of possession, in order to win back the thing; but irrespective of the nature of the task at hand, he always went about in a way that was quintessentially Richarlison-esque. One watched on rather approvingly.
He took his disallowed goal mightily impressively. I had been under the impression from his various considered observations of the last few days that his lack of playing time had had a detrimental effect upon his mood and performance levels and such things, but one would never have known judging by the way he walloped home his effort just three minutes in.
He made it look pretty straightforward – which, I understand, in industry circles, is quite the seal of approval – but from my vantage point it seemed anything but. The ball was bouncing for a start, which tipped the scales heavily in favour of a shot disappearing off into the upper stand. For added complication the ball also looked for all the world like it was more interested in getting away from Richarlison rather than teaming up with him for collaborative adventures. That our man made light of both challenges, and simply leathered the ball into the roof of the night, was massively to his credit. Just a shame that it amounted to naught, what?
Quite when he will register his first league goals for us is anyone’s guess (I noticed him shoot a rather pleading look at Kane when the penalty was awarded), but his contributions elsewhere were valuable, and his ability to add presence within the penalty area as well as outside it offers a handy extra attacking string to the lilywhite bow.
2. Pedro Porro
Another whom AANP eyes with affection is young Master Porro.
The fellow is certainly eager to please, taking every opportunity to yell angrily in the face of the nearest opponent, presumably in order to convince us of how much he cares. It all seemed a bit of an act, in truth, working himself up into a state after every tackle, successful or otherwise. Perhaps it is something in the Latin blood. Either way, it didn’t matter much to me one way or another as long as he continued that business of whipping in his crosses.
Now that was where the lad earned his beans. He crosseth like a demon. In fact, if anything I chide the chap for not doing so more frequently. I’ve bleated away often enough about the need for our wing-backs to offer some attacking flavour in order to make this whole 3-4-3 business hum and whirr, and in Pedro Porro we finally have a lad who can make the eyes water with a hot line in crosses whipped at pace from the flank and into a general area of mischief, the sort that does all the hard work itself, requiring the forward only to make contact in order to complete the deal.
Funnily enough however, the goal Porro actually created relied upon a lot more finesse than the sort to which I allude above. Instead, this was more of a delicately-nurtured chip, tailored for the head of Harry Kane, and coming with a pretty specific set of next-step instructions. Rather than ‘Any Contact Will Do’, this required Kane to angle himself and steer the thing (which, being Harry Kane, was barely an inconvenience).
Nevertheless, Porro’s work was still an underrated masterpiece. Both time and space were in short supply when he took possession of the thing, for he was not roaming the great plains of the flank, but was jostling for space within the rather crowded confines of the penalty area. When he took possession it was already rush-hour. With Richarlison dinking in crosses from the right, Davies effecting full-body sliding passes on the left and no fewer than eight extras from Forest scattered around the area, one could not have swung a cat without bumping into at least three other sweaty frames . When the ball eventually came to Porro, it was clear that this was no time to pause and take stock.
However, if such concerns weighed on him, he certainly didn’t show it. Within a trice he had the ball out of his feet and curling inch-perfectly toward the head of Kane, somehow making time in his crowded schedule for a brief glance to identify his target in the process. On top of which, being a short-distance sort of affair, this was not the type of cross one could deliver through a gay old swing of the clog. In order to hit his mark from a distance of no more than ten yards, Porro had to re-programme from Power to Deftness in double-quick time.
That Porro executed the entire manoeuvre precisely the required proportions of speed, delicacy and accuracy suggested that here was a chap for whom this was not his first time. Porro is clearly a man who knows his apples from his oranges when it comes to delivering for his forwards. This could be the start of something special.
3. Ben Davies
On the subject of wing-backs, I aim a sightly grudging nod of appreciation at Ben Davies over on the left. Make no mistake, it pains me to voice such a sentiment. A chap like Ben Davies, while never wanting for effort, and almost certainly a thoroughly pleasant egg, is hardly the sort whose presence makes the heart skip a beat or two. ‘Handy Reserve’ about sums it up.
Always pretty game, Ben Davies’ principal failing as a wing-back is that his crosses miss as often as they hit. And having banged on a fair bit above about the virtues of a dead-eyed crosser of the ball from the wide positions, you will understand that this shortcoming grates. Perisic may have offered precious little value in literally any other field since joining the gang, but he does at least swing in a mean old cross. Ben Davies does not.
However, as amply demonstrated yesterday, Ben Davies does make the most of whatever other tools he lugs around with him. Take his positional sense, for example. It may sound like the faintest possible praise with which to damn a poor chap, but when our heroes scurry forward he does position himself in locations that make the opposition think a bit, and occupy a spot of their manpower, be it out wide on the flank, or scuttling off into the area to offer the option of a slide-rule pass towards the by-line. Most of the time he’s ignored by his colleagues, a decision-making route one certainly understands, but his presence in these spots does assist the general operation.
And his eagerness to toe the Conte line, requiring all wing-backs to augment the attack by taking up positions inside the penalty area because the midfielders sure as heck won’t, bore some fruit yesterday when he kept the ball alive by the skin of his teeth, in the build-up to our opener. Indeed, he popped up as an auxiliary attacker on a couple of other occasions – a header here, a drilled effort this – this being the sort of game in which a wing-back didn’t have to worry too much about what was happening at the rear.
And there’s the rub, I suppose. This was not the sort of game in which we had to worry too much about the defence, it was the sort of game in which Ben Davies caught the eye as a handy contributor. One might say it was “only” Nottingham Forest, but a week ago it was “only” Wolves, and that didn’t stop our heroes making a solid pig’s ear of things, so I’ll happily take this week’s harvest – and Liverpool’s little gift – and move on.