Maurizio Sarri didn’t take long to start singing the praises of Felipe Anderson.
“I’ve coached many great players, but I’ve rarely seen anyone with the potential of Felipe….he has extraordinary gifts,” the Lazio coach said back in September 2021.
It was an eyebrow-raising comment, coming from a man who worked with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Eden Hazard and Cristiano Ronaldo during his spells at Napoli, Chelsea and Juventus.
But from the very start of his time in Rome, Sarri recognised the precocious talent of his Brazilian winger and set to work trying to release it.
Anderson becomes Lazio mainstay
The coach has been relentless in this pursuit. Remarkably, Anderson has featured in every single Lazio game over the last two seasons since the coach arrived at Formello.
Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to AZ Alkmaar was the former West Ham and Porto man’s 84th appearance in a row since he returned to the club.
In an era of stamina-destroying fixture schedules and five substitutions, and with healthy competition from the likes of Mattia Zaccagni, Pedro, Matteo Cancellieri and Luka Romero, Anderson has been locked in every time, in every competition.
He hasn’t always started, but almost. Only three of his 36 appearances this season and six from 46 games in 2021/22 were from the bench.
Anderson forced into unfamiliar role
One element of Anderson’s game that has impressed this season is his ability to morph into a central striker during Ciro Immobile’s increasingly frequent absences through injury.
He did so again against the Dutch side, and will likely have to continue in that role up until the Rome Derby on March 19 at the earliest. The problem is, the goals have dried up.
Lazio went into Tuesday’s European clash on a five-match unbeaten run, but that was largely thanks to a demonic defence that had kept five consecutive clean sheets.
When the defence is breached, it’s a problem. Lazio haven’t won a game they’ve conceded in since beating Midtjylland 2-1 in October, and they haven’t managed to win while conceding in Serie A since beating Inter 3-1 in August.
Since hammering Milan 4-0 on January 24, the Biancocelesti have mustered more than one goal just once in their last 10 games.
“I spoke with the players who have been scoring less recently, but creating more chances than before,” Sarri said after the AZ defeat.
“We have lost a clinical edge in front of goal. Even with Immobile in the team, we have messed up too often recently.”
Lazio forwards struggle to make regular impact
Anderson isn’t the only player who is guilty of it.
But if he’s going to play through the middle, Lazio are going to need him to be more clinical than he was against AZ, when he spurned two or three big chances in the second half.
Immobile is, obviously, Lazio’s top scorer this season with 11 goals, but his fitness has been an issue. Anderson and Zaccagni are the next best with eight each, but neither of them has scored since January and the drought is having an impact on Lazio’s results.
With Immobile on the sidelines again, things aren’t going to get any easier. But one thing is clear – Sarri needs golden boy Anderson to unlock his potential in front of goal as soon as possible.