The doubts around Felipe Anderson’s return to Serie A and to Lazio this summer were understandable.
The 28-year-old spent the last three years since leaving Rome struggling for form at West Ham and Porto, and that was after he was reduced to an impact substitute role in his final season with the Biancocelesti.
Would he really be able to provide the spark, guile and goals required to be a starter in Maurizio Sarri’s attacking trident? On the evidence we’ve seen so far, the answer is a resounding yes.
The Brazilian was at his dazzling best in Lazio’s 3-1 win against Inter on Saturday. Almost all of Lazio’s threat in the first half came down the right wing, where Anderson needed no invitation to take on a defender.
He burned past Alessandro Bastoni to set up Toma Basic for Lazio’s best chance of the half, saved by Samir Handanovic, before leading and finishing the Aquile’s counter-attack that put them in front after the break. Of course, the goal caused controversy, with Inter players incensed that Lazio had continued to play while Federico Dimarco was on the ground.
Without a serious injury or head knock occurring, the referee not blowing his whistle and with Inter playing on themselves and taking a shot when Dimarco first went down, Lazio were within their rights to continue – even if the Nerazzurri weren’t best pleased by a perceived lack of sportsmanship.
But, as UEFA vice-president Zibi Boniek put it: “There is zero controversy, you play until the referee blows his whistle”.
Anderson deserved a goal for his performance and Lazio’s gamble on bringing him back from the Hammers for just €3 million could turn out to be a transfer market masterstroke.
It’s unusual to talk about great potential when it comes to a player aged 28, but with Anderson there has always been a sense that he just needs the right coach to draw out more consistent form.
What a match in Rome! Here is what @aksmackenzie thought of it! #LazioInter #SerieA #FIFattheGames pic.twitter.com/ygYxxGIBYT
— ForzaItalianFootball (@SerieAFFC) October 16, 2021
Before the Rome Derby last month, Sarri lavished praise on his winger.
“I have coached a lot of good players, but I’ve rarely coached someone with the potential of Felipe,” Sarri said. “He has extraordinary gifts.”
Filling the Brazilian with confidence was the right move; he scored one goal and set up another in a 3-2 win over Roma.
Against Inter, Anderson recorded some of his best numbers of the season: his highest pass completion rate (97.7 percent), his most key passes (six), and joint-most successful dribbles (five).
With Pedro also impressing on the opposite wing since his free transfer from rivals Roma in the summer, Lazio’s inexpensively-acquired front line is already showing great promise under Sarri.
But Anderson isn’t alone in being questioned about his consistency. Lazio’s wins over Roma and Inter came either side of a shocking 3-0 defeat to Bologna, while they’ve also dropped points against Cagliari and Torino in the last month.
If they are to put themselves forward as real top four contenders, Lazio – and Anderson – must follow up this scalp with another big performance and result at Verona on Sunday.