When Brazilian winger Felipe Anderson joined West Ham United from Italian club Lazio, there was a lot of expectation on his shoulders. This was due to him being the club’s record signing at £42 million and the calibre of clubs that West Ham had to compete with for his signature. The Brazilian’s arrival was part of a £100 million splurge by the East London club. They brought in a number of players in a variety of positions, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko. All of this all stemmed from the much-criticised board. They gave the requisite financial backing to new boss Manuel Pellegrini in a bid to improve on their lowly finish in the 2017/2018 Premier League season.
With Pellegrini’s brand of attacking football taking hold at the London Stadium, Anderson emerged as the talisman for this team. With the players brought in alongside Anderson, former players such as Nigel Winterburn are expecting West Ham to finish in the top ten, as he mentioned in a recent interview with Sportingbet.
This article will analyse the Brazilian’s improved performances so far in the Premier League and see how he has reached these levels.
Early season expectations and performances
Being the club’s record signing, Anderson has played in every Premier League game for the Hammers so far this season and has scored a total of six goals in all competitions. If you just woke up now and had a look at his statistics, you might be fooled into thinking that the former Serie A player has enjoyed a rosy time at the London Stadium. But when the season began things were not looking so rosy.
Despite the heightened expectations, or perhaps because of them, the 25-year-old struggled for form in the early games of the season. West Ham started the campaign in the worst possible fashion. They lost four out of their opening four league games. The storm clouds were gathering over the London stadium. However, a tactical tweak in the fifth game away to Everton, saw West Ham blow the Toffees out of the water and with it came the improved performances of their record signing. The Hammers now find themselves 11th in the table and see a top-six finish as a realistic target come the end of the season.
Earlier on in the season, Anderson struggled with the pace and intensity of the Premier League. The games were more physically exacting than what he was used to while playing for Lazio in Italy.
Anderson Comes of age
Since those early season jitters, Anderson has come into his own as he has adapted better to the style of play in English football. Physically, he has put on more muscle and strengthened himself. As a result, it has made it more difficult for him to be bullied off the ball by defenders. Added with that, the more time he has spent with his new teammates, it has enabled him to forge an understanding with them. However, while all these factors have undoubtedly played a role in his improved performances. The area that has been able to bring about the most radical change in Anderson’s performances has been in the tactical aspects of the game.
At the beginning of the season, Pellegrini was unsure as to what his best starting XI was and what the best system was to implement, which would get the best out of his players. The only two constants were goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and Anderson. The uncertainty led the Chilean trying a number of different systems in the opening weeks of the season, including the 4–4–2 and 4–1–4-1 formations as he sought to find a winning formula for his team. It took until match day five against Everton for him to come up with the 4–3–3 formation that he used to get the win and kick-start West Ham’s season.
Since that first win at Everton, Pellegrini has alternated between the 4–4–2 and the 4–3–3, falling back to the former in the last three games against Crystal Palace, Cardiff City and Newcastle United. But despite the change in formations, Anderson’s role has been clearly spelt out – he is the creative spark of this West Ham team. Playing nominally as a left midfielder or a left wing forward, depending on if it is a 4–3–3 or 4–4–2. Anderson’s dribbling and passing ability combined with his propensity for diagonal actions away from the touchline fit in very well with Pellegrini’s tactical tastes. The Chilean loves his fullbacks to get forward and join the attack when possible. As a result, this ability to play in an inverted manner opens up the space for the fullback to overlap into.
Playing in this way also allows Anderson to pick out through balls, either for the full backs to then cross into the box or directly to the centre-forwards running in behind for a chance on goal. This is born out in the statistics as Anderson tops the charts for through balls among West Ham players with (four) while putting relatively few crosses in despite nominally playing as a winger. Anderson has scored six goals but contributed just one assist, although he has created 28 chances so far this season – only eight fewer than Man City’s David Silva, and three more than Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen.
As part of the tactical renaissance, Manuel Pellegrini has set up his team to be a fearsome counter-attacking force both against the big teams and the supposed smaller teams. Anderson is also a very big part of this tactic due to his great pace and prodigious dribbling ability. The Brazilian may not be the best dribbler in tight spaces, but he is fearful in 1 vs 1 situations. And the increased space that is available during counter attacks makes this his bread and butter. This has allowed West Ham to score a lot of goals from such situations, like a 3 vs 3 or 3 vs 4 counter attack with numerical inferiority. This is a good opportunity due to Anderson’s ability to eliminate opposition defenders.
Only nine players have made more passes ending in the final third, with West Ham making full use of his attacking threat since he began to settle. And he has completed the ninth-highest number of dribbles, causing real chaos down the left flank.
Too often in football, offensive players, especially those who carry the bulk of the creative burden of their team, are not always defensively aware. This can leave their teams short in such situations, preferring to save their energy for when they do have they ball – think Hazard at Chelsea. While this sounds reasoning, Anderson is probably cut from a different cloth as he hasn’t shirked his responsibilities at the other end of the pitch. He is usually seen aiding his fullback to deal with whatever threats come down the left-hand side. This is also borne out by the statistics as he has made the most tackles (20) and interceptions (39) of all West Ham forwards this season.
Tucking in, alongside the central midfielders during the moments when West Ham are defending. Anderson and the opposite winger complete the second line of four in front of the defence. They spring in to aid the fullback if the opposition builds up the game to that side of the pitch. And although he is their direct opponent, due to West Ham’s zonal system of defending, the wingers are not fixated on the opposition fullback. Instead, they focus on maintaining horizontal compactness in order to prevent the opposition from playing through the lines. As a result, such positioning also allows them to be in a position to break out at speed if and when West Ham do recover the ball.
Anderson has become an important player for West Ham so early in the season, despite some early season troubles. The Brazilian has recovered well to find the form to justify his record fee, exemplified by his haul of five goals in his last six games. There is still room for improvement though, he is just 25-years of age and can only get better. He himself has set the target of at least equaling Paolo Di Canio’s exploits for the Hammers. And if he continues on this upward trajectory, he might very well achieve it.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Get your copy of November’s issue for just £4.99 here or preorder the first of TWO December issues right here.