In Focus: Felipe's fine form is And-y for Lazio as he guns for Porto
Felipe Anderson’s career is well and truly back on track.
After enduring an ill-fated loan spell with Portuguese giants Porto last season, the former West Ham star returned to Rome and has become a key player for Lazio.
And the Brazilian, 28, will get a chance to show his old club what they are missing tonight when Maurizio Sarri’s men take on the Dragons in the first leg of their Europa League knockout round play-off clash.
Ahead of that encounter, we take a look at how Anderson has found his form in the Italian capital.
Right place, right time
Modern wingers are typically deployed on their supposedly weaker side to enable them to cut in from wide areas — but Sarri has had a different idea for Anderson.
The Lazio No7, though extremely comfortable on either flank, is primarily right-footed.
So the former Chelsea boss has used him on the right side of his front three — giving Anderson greater freedom when attacking.
With Luis Alberto pulling the strings on the left-hand side of the pitch, Anderson is the creative menace on the opposite flank.
He has chipped in with 0.25 assists per 90 minutes across Serie A and Europa League matches this term and has a commendable open-play expected assists average of 0.16 per 90.
Despite lining up as a winger in the starting XI, Anderson often delivers the ball into the area from deeper positions around the penalty box, as shown in his pass map above.
The ex-Hammers ace is only as effective as he is due to Sarri’s insistence on using him as a traditional wide forward.
A tricky customer
Anderson is by no means a volume dribbler.
He has attempted an average of just 3.73 take-ons per 90 so far this term — his game is not built on running at people over and over again.
Instead, he will pick and choose when to carry the ball and when to lay it off. The two-cap international’s intelligence gives him an edge in this particular area.
As a result, he is extraordinarily productive with his dribbles and has completed 62% of his attempted take-ons in league and European matches.
Lazio’s fleet-footed flyer might be in the team to cause havoc in a creative sense — but he also contributes goals.
Anderson has only scored four times this season but he is getting into good areas on a semi-regular basis, as shown in his shot map.
His 0.17 strikes per 90 is roughly on par with an expected goals average of 0.12. So while he might not be a reliable goalscorer, he is a reliable threat.
The former Santos man has not shaped his entire game around scoring. But he is aware that it is still a significant part of his role in the team, despite being more of a creator.
A point to prove
During his forgettable loan stint in Portugal, Porto boss Sergio Conceicao questioned Anderson’s work rate.
He said: "Felipe knows that in order to return to having brilliant moments, it is necessary to work hard.
"Anything he does now can have great positive results in the future.
"And everything that has already happened no longer matters, it stays in the bank. The important thing is what he will do at Porto."
It is perhaps one of the reasons why he was frozen out of the team — so the winger is going to want to send a message to his former boss if given the nod tonight.
Bags of potential
Whereas Conceicao put pressure on Anderson, Sarri has taken the opposite approach — heaping plenty of praise on the Santa Maria native.
Speaking in September, he said: "Felipe Anderson does not always follow the action.
"I have coached many strong players, but I have rarely coached a potentially strong one like Felipe.
"He has extraordinary talents, he brought them out in a small part. He must have a growth in conviction and nastiness, because otherwise he is a waste of talent.
"At full potential, he’d be world-class."
The resurgent Lazio star has rewarded his manager’s methods with a series of eye-catching performances, both domestically and in Europe.
The stage is set for the mercurial midfielder to now make the difference against his former employers.