Premier League

Anderson the post-Payet magician Hammers have longed for

 • by Matt Gault
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At times this season, West Ham United fans have flirted with the idea that Felipe Anderson, the £36million summer signing from Lazio, would soon join the club’s list of failed attacking imports.

Whereas Dimitri Payet dazzled, others failed, often spectacularly. There was Simone Zaza who couldn’t find the net in 11 appearances, and there was Jonathan Calleri, the former Boca Juniors forward who disappeared after one hugely underwhelming year in English football.

Throw in Sofiane Feghouli and André Ayew and you have an eclectic collection of forward-thinking players whose attempts to light up the West Ham attack were tortured, to say the least.

Last season Marko Arnautović threatened to become another. Under Slaven Bilić the Austrian was enigmatic, but David Moyes breathed new life into him, allowing him to become the talisman under the Scot’s successor, Manuel Pellegrini.

Now, having emerged from a two-month period spent adapting to the English game, Anderson is determinedly offering evidence that he can soon follow Arnautović’s transformative trajectory.

Anderson’s move to West Ham came at an important time in his career. Now 25, the Brazilian had been a key man for Lazio throughout a five-year stay in Rome but had not nearly hit the dizzying heights of Neymar, alongside whom he had first caught the eye during Santos’ run to Copa Libertadores glory in 2011.

Neymar became a superstar at Barcelona and then the most expensive player of all time when he signed for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017. Anderson, however, despite producing moments of brilliance at times at Lazio, was never considered one of the world’s best.

After five years in Serie A, it was time for a new challenge – and what a challenge it was going to be. While PSG walked Ligue 1 since Neymar arrived in France, Anderson was never going to find his own domestic idyll in the Premier League, even in West Ham’s plush new home at the London Stadium.

Anderson needed only to look at the travails of his namesake and compatriot, who now plays second-tier football in Turkey after failing to consistently produce at Manchester United the brilliance that earned him the prestigious Golden Boy award in 2008.

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West Ham was a risky location in which to take his career to the next level, but Anderson is slowly but surely living up to his club-record price tag (a particular burden on-loan players such as Zaza and Calleri didn’t have to worry about).

Anderson starred in West Ham’s 4-2 victory over Burnley on Saturday, taking centre stage as Pellegrini’s men won for the first time since beating Manchester United at the end of September.

The ever-dependable Arnautović may have got the ball rolling with a tenth-minute opener but it was Anderson on the left flank who stole the headlines, his performance being deemed worthy enough for a slick showreel on Match of the Day.

Anderson got the nod ahead of a grim post-mortem on another dishevelled display by Burnley’s defence (last season, the Clarets averaged 1.02 goals conceded per game but are now shipping 2.27). And deservedly so. He was excellent, a hurricane of enthusiasm and craft on the wing, regularly bringing the home fans to the edge of their seats.

He scored twice, having managed one in ten previous league appearances, and would have walked away with the match ball had it not been for Ben Mee’s extraordinary goal-line clearance.

Anderson gave Burnley hell all afternoon. He had more touches (103) than any other player on the pitch, completed the most passes (57) and was fouled more than anyone else (four), statistics which prove he was constantly involved as opposed to popping up every now and then.

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But West Ham fans would be forgiven for thinking it was somewhat out of the blue, having been hooked off at half-time in the Carabao Cup defeat to Tottenham Hotspur after enduring a nightmarish Halloween. Sub-par displays against Leicester City, Spurs and Brighton & Hove Albion in the weeks previous brought him to the brink of warming the bench, but Pellegrini stuck with him, offering Anderson the chance to kick-start his Hammers career.

It proved a wise move.

Beyond his goals, there were clear signs of Anderson’s boosted confidence. He completed three out of seven attempted take-ons. While four may not have come off, the fact that he even attempted seven dribbles is a measure of his burgeoning self-belief (seven was more than the six he managed in his three previous league appearances combined).

Crucially, the connection with Arnautović was there, too. Shortly after the Austrian opened the scoring, Anderson played him in for a second, only to be denied by Joe Hart.

There was also the cheeky nutmeg on Matthew Lowton, the audacious long-range volley straight from Robert Snodgrass’ free-kick and the heat-seeking diagonal ball to find Michail Antonio in the build-up to Javier Hernández’s injury-time goal.

These were mere snippets of action, yes, but influential moments which showed a player with his tail up, someone who is starting to relish his role as West Ham’s marquee name.

In Anderson West Ham have a gifted technician, a player with the natural ability to become a regular matchwinner for them. That he ranks sixth and second in interceptions (1.49) and tackles (3.28) respectively for players in his position suggests that he is not above the grittier side of the game either.

Of course, Lazio may warn West Ham fans to temper their excitement for a player who can blow hot and cold, but with attentive man-management, Anderson can become the post-Payet magician the club has been dreaming of ever since the Frenchman departed nearly two years ago.

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