If not a full-blown smile, then at least some pride has been restored at West Ham following a horrible start to the season. Victory at Everton and a goalless draw at home to Chelsea, the first dropped points by the Blues this season, is precisely the tonic the club needed.
The Chelsea result is significant in itself because while Everton showed the Hammers can attack and score goals, Sunday afternoon at the London Stadium proved they also have defensive discipline.
Manuel Pellegrini appears to have hit upon a positive formula and 4-1-4-1 formation, which sort of becomes a 4-3-3 in possession, and all of a sudden, this side has an identity and a sense of purpose and can look forward to upcoming fixtures against Macclesfield and Manchester United with optimism rather than foreboding.
However, throughout the teething problems of August – which could still resurface – there was one constant that gave supporters something to cling onto: the form of Felipe Anderson.
Our friends at Football Whispers take a look at the Brazilian’s progress since signing for West Ham in a £36million deal from Lazio.
It speaks volumes that amid all Pellegrini’s chopping and changing, Anderson, Fabian Balbuena and goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski have been the only Hammers to have started every game.
Because while Anderson has dazzled at times in possession, showing signs of excellence to come in the not-too-distant future, what’s been impressive has been his overall work-rate and commitment to dragging the team out of a rut.
With West Ham in desperate need of points, common wisdom would dictate to remove your luxury players and focus on more full-blooded individuals. Except, that’s doing Anderson a disservice because while his stereotype may imply flamboyant playmaker, he’s more of a two-way footballer than previously considered.
Only one attacking player in the Premier League average more tackles per 90 minutes than the Brazilian’s 3.26 and he also ranks third for interceptions with 1.99.
Whereas many who debut in the Premier League showcase their attacking skills before working on their defensive game, Anderson has done it the other way around.
That’s not to say the offensive side of his game has been completely negated as he’s a top 20 player for accurate passes (35.92), through balls (0.36), successful take-ons (2.35) and set-play key passes (0.36) but the production hasn’t quite been there yet.
Anderson has just one assist and no goals from those six appearances. And, of course, much of that is attributable to West Ham’s all-round collective issues prior to this mini-run but once he does start finding his targets, he should be a very special player indeed.
The amount of passes he’s making each game displays how key he is to West Ham moving forward with only Mark Noble having averaged more (45.97). As a playmaker who is also a winger, it creates a problem for the opposition.
When playmakers are in the middle, if required, they can be double-teamed with a defensive midfielder helping out the centre-back, without affecting a team’s overall shape. But when that threat is on the flank, do you shunt an extra midfielder out there to help the full-back? That carries its own set of risks in other areas of the field.
As his fledgling statistics indicate, Anderson is looking comfortable on the ball. Consistently an option for his teammates, he has that natural glide and rhythm in possession that helps the overall tempo of the side.
Being a club record signing in a period where the rest of the team isn’t functioning, with a manager chopping and changing line-ups and formations, the pressure will have been intense. The 25-year-old, though, has played with a sense of calm and freedom.
Pellegrini is using an entirely new combination of forwards with Anderson, Marko Arnautovic and Andriy Yarmolenko, and the latter has only made two starts. Arnautovic also missed the Chelsea game due to injury so the chemistry is yet to fully develop.
It may be at least another month before the trio click but providing Pellegrini can persist with all three, which depends on how good West Ham remain defensively, the results could be deeply impressive and problematic for the rest of the Premier League.
All are capable on the ball and can play on the front foot, isolating defenders 1v1 and can float in a deeper role or play as the last man. Pellegrini starts with Anderson left, Arnautovic centre and Yarmolenko right, but it’s a flexible combination which can interchange throughout 90 minutes.
Inconsistency dogged Anderson’s time at Lazio and is, in part, the reason why at this stage of his career he’s starting for West Ham and not one of Europe’s genuine elite clubs, but so far east London is proving a fine platform for him to showcase exactly what he’s capable of.
* Odds subject to change
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