Premier League

Tactical tweak has worked wonders for flying Felipe

 • by Matt Gault
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At the start of November, I wrote that Felipe Anderson was the post-Payet magician West Ham have longed for.

At the time, I hoped I hadn’t cursed the Brazilian. He had caught the eye during the early months of the season but had, I knew, a long way to go before he could stand alongside Payet.

Since that article was written on November 5, however, the 25-year-old has continued his impressive first year in English football, with five goals in eight games, bringing his total to eight in 19.

At a club record £36million, and with a history of inconsistency at Lazio, Anderson was certainly an expensive gamble for the Hammers.

However, having surpassed Marko Arnautović as the club’s leading scorer this season, it has certainly gone to plan so far.

Anderson was at his magnificent, matchwinning best again on Thursday night, netting a quickfire double to single-handedly down Southampton and send West Ham ninth.

Just three minutes after Nathan Redmond’s opener, the 25-year-old struck back, rifling a low drive into Alex McCarthy’s bottom right-hand corner for the equaliser.

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Six minutes later, Anderson crushed the Saints, finishing a rapid counter-attack with aplomb after being found by Michail Antonio.

There are many aspects to Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham project that fans can be excited about. Declan Rice continues to mature at an impressive rate in midfield while Robert Snodgrass‘ renaissance has been one of the season’s more unlikely stories.

Issa Diop, too, looks an outstanding prospect following a series of commanding displays at the heart of defence. It is, however, the Frenchman’s fellow summer recruit who is stealing all the headlines.

And Anderson’s rich vein of form is no coincidence. The 25-year-old has quickly adapted his game to focus less on dribbling and more on goalscoring.

He has been used in a variety of different positions since joining: on the left wing of a 4-3-3, on the left of or centrally in the three behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 or alongside Andriy Yarmolenko in a two behind Arnautović in a 4-3-2-1 (otherwise known as the ‘Christmas Tree Formation’).

Recently, Pellegrini has switched to a conventional 4-4-2 and it has brought out the best in his most expensive player, who has made the left wing spot his own.

After Manchester City strolled to a 4-0 win at the London Stadium, Pellegrini tweaked his tactics and the results have been thoroughly satisfying. After the City result, the Irons were 13th but have since picked up five wins out of six, a 2-0 defeat to Watford the only blip in an otherwise impressive run.

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And during that time Anderson has flourished. He starred and scored in the 3-0 win at Newcastle, impressed in the 3-1 defeat of Cardiff before producing another exemplary finish to help see off Crystal Palace 3-2. It was his pace and trickery on the left wing which created Snodgrass’ opener in the win at Fulham earlier this month too.

It’s interesting to see how Anderson has tailored his game since arriving in England. Between March (when he was still at Lazio) and September 23, the South American was completing 4.54 take-ons per 90. Since then, that number has dropped to 1.61.

However, during the latter period, his goals per 90 has shot up from 0.16 to 0.65, as has his scoring attempts, from 1.44 to 2.21. His creativity has dipped, with his expected goals assisted per 90 halved from 0.26 to 0.13.

But it’s clear that Pellegrini sees Anderson as a natural goalscorer and has harnessed that side of his game instead. Indeed, the former Santos star’s expected goals (xG) per 90 has increased from 0.08 to 0.25.

In the former period, Anderson scored two open-play goals in 1121 minutes of action. Since then, he’s notched six in 1099. It’s clear that Pellegrini has found a system in which Anderson has the freedom to continually get himself into goalscoring positions.

Following the win over Southampton, Pellegrini quite shrewdly attempted to temper excitement over Anderson’s recent form.

“Well I always say that Felipe’s still learning the Premier League,” said the Chilean.

“It’s not easy for a midfielder to score eight goals in the first half of the season. I’m sure he will continue improving in the second half of the season.”

If he is still learning and there is an improvement to come, West Ham have a bonafide star in the making, one who has the ability to surpass Payet’s achievements for the club.

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