Felipe Anderson’s Lazio career has been the picture of inconsistency since his breakout season two years ago. As the likes of Eden Hazard can attest to, even the best players can have off seasons, but the Brazilian has been a victim of tactical inconsistency too.
Having transferred from Santos in the summer of 2013, Felipe Anderson spent a year on the side-lines serving as back-up to Antonio Candreva and Hernanes. Following his compatriot’s move to Inter, the following summer the young forward was thrust into the starting XI.
Under the tutelage of new Coach Stefano Pioli, Anderson thrived, his 10 goals and seven assists helping to drive Lazio to a third-place finish. At just the tender age of 21, the Brazilian formed the perfect counter-part to Candreva on the opposite flank, earning his status as a fan favourite by scoring a number of long-range efforts.
The following summer, the transfer columns were awash with rumours linking him with major clubs on the continent. Sporting director Igli Tare even claimed that President Claudio Lotito refused a €50m offer from Manchester United.
As a reward for his outstanding season, the winger was given the coveted Number 10 shirt, placing him in the esteemed company of Roberto Mancini, Hernan Crespo and Paul Gascoigne. However, with expectation at its highest, Felipe Anderson failed to replicate his form, falling three short of his previous tally for both goals and assists.
The drop in form could be attributed to Pioli’s decision to switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation in an effort to integrate new signing Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The previous season, Felipe Anderson found success cutting in on to his left foot to find space in the middle of the pitch. However, with Milinkovic-Savic playing as a trequartista, the Brazilian was forced to play as more of a traditional winger.
Without Anderson’s creative influence, Lazio’s top scorer at the end of the season was Candreva, on just 10 goals. An eighth-place finish was preceded by Pioli’s sacking and replacement with youth team Coach Simone Inzaghi.
Inzaghi’s first full season saw further tactical experimentation. After a brief flirtation with his predecessor’s 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, the former Lazio striker settled on a 3-5-2 set up, fielding Anderson as a right-wing-back and helping the Brazilian to rediscover some of his old form.
Despite scoring only four times in 33 appearances, playing in a more withdrawn position allowed Anderson to develop other aspects of his game. For instance, over the course of the season, the converted winger achieved a career best for assists, key passes, crosses, tackles and interceptions.
Whilst Inzaghi will have been pleased with his player’s contribution this season, Anderson is not, and never will be a natural wing-back. The Brazilian’s eye for goal and technical ability mark him out as one of Serie A’s top young forwards, regardless of an indifferent few seasons. His Coach will be wary of wasting these gifts and, to paraphrase Zlatan Ibrahimovic, ‘buying a Ferrari and driving it like a FIAT’.
In an effort to resolve this, Inzaghi has once again spent pre-season experimenting tactically. Victories over Auronzo, Triestina, Spal and Bayer Leverkusen were used to evaluate whether Felipe Anderson could be utilised as a forward.
The winger-turned-right-wing-back-turned-striker was fielded as part of a front two, alongside Ciro Immobile or Keita Balde Diao, and to great effect. Scoring in the opening fixture against Auronzo, Anderson acted more as a playmaker than a finisher, given licence to roam in the final third to find space.
Clearly, this is a position that suits the Brazilian, whose raw ability has often seemed hampered by tactical inflexibility over the last few seasons. Games played as right wing back and right attacking midfielder have often given Anderson the impression of a square peg in a round hole. Giving him a free role is an ideal solution to this problem.
Lazio’s recent purchase of Adam Marusic suggests that the right-wing-back slot has been filled, and with Inzaghi likely to stick with his 3-5-2 formation, there is only really one space up for grabs. As a result, Anderson’s future next season is closely linked to that of Keita.
What has been made obvious during this pre-season is that if a replacement for want-away Keita is needed, Lazio need look no further than their Number 10.