After Luca Toni led Hellas Verona to a memorable victory over Napoli on Sunday, the veteran striker not only stole vital points away from Rafael Benitez’s men, but they also added impetus to another side’s relentless march up the table.
Twenty-four hours later, Lazio kicked off against Torino and the Rome-based club knew they could lift themselves above the Partenopei and into third place, putting themselves firmly in control of Serie A’s final Champions League berth.
Their opponents may well have had their minds on Thursday’s Europa League meeting with Zenit St. Petersburg and rested players accordingly, but they had not lost at home since mid-November and would be no pushovers.
With 70 minutes played, the game remained a stalemate as Felipe Anderson picked up the ball just inside the opposition half, quickly bursting forward towards the Torino goal. Beating two defenders, he had both Keita Balde and Miroslav Klose in support but had just one thing on his mind, firing a low shot beyond goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
He would double Lazio’s lead just seven minutes later, putting an exclamation mark on yet another spectacular display, and the latest match in which he had taken centre stage.
The Brazilian midfielder is a major protagonist throughout Lazio’s resurgence, in stark contrast with his first 12 months in the Italian capital. Arriving in June 2013, his debut campaign was thoroughly underwhelming, making just seven league starts last term as he failed to score a single goal for his new side. It was a similar story as this season got underway, and by December he had managed just one 90 minute showing in his first eleven outings of 2014-15.
Then came an injury to Antonio Candreva, forcing coach Stefano Pioli to field Anderson from the start against Parma, and he would net a simple winning goal as he turned Filip Djordjevic’s cross past the goalkeeper.
He would follow up his first strike for the club by creating two of Lazio’s three goals against Atalanta, before truly serving notice of his talent in a whirlwind performance against Inter at San Siro. Netting after just two minutes, the 21-year-old would turn the entire first half into a showcase for his talent, tormenting the home side with his incredible pace and skill on the ball.
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Time and again he would beat defenders with consummate ease, culminating in his second goal for which he skipped past three Inter players before placing a low shot beyond Samir Handanovic. It was a strike which made the €8 million fee Lazio paid for the Brazilian seem like a bargain, and fuelled talk of a summer move to a club that can allow Anderson’s ability to shine in the Champions League.
He has found the back of the net repeatedly since then, taking his tally for the campaign to eight – and adding six assists – with Pioli now fielding him and Candreva either side of Miroslav Klose in a deadly attacking trio.
In his typically understated fashion, the Lazio boss said his talented charge is “quick and unpredictable” and the winger has continued his excellent form, stunning opponents with a blend of skill, pace and trickery so rarely seen in Serie A. It is a combination that has drawn admiring glances from abroad too, with reports last week insisting that Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool have all expressed an interest in Anderson.
The Anfield giants sent scout Paul Goldrick to see him in action in the win over Fiorentina, and Lazio are expected to demand around €25 million for their young star.
In his current form it would be no surprise to see one of the Premier League sides part with that sum, particularly given the increase in television revenue they are set to receive. However, in an interview with Gianluca Di Marzio, the player’s agent played down talk of a move, Stefano Castagna telling the respected transfer expert:
“It's normal that other clubs should like him and watch him, but the rumours surrounding him are baseless. Felipe Anderson has to think of nothing else other than doing well with Lazio.
“He still has a long contract with them. I'm not even taking into consideration any future hypothesis outside of the Biancoceleste.”
That would seemingly be due to Lazio’s faith in the player last summer, sporting director Igli Tare refusing a number of offers despite his then underwhelming form.
That is most certainly no longer the case, with only one player in Serie A – Palermo’s Franco Vasquez – having completed more dribbles as Anderson has been successful with 68 of his 99 attempted take-ons according to Squawka.com. The same source shows he has found the target with 62% of his 34 shots so far this term, a deadly combination that his coach believes can only improve.
“He hasn’t matured fully yet,” Pioli said at a recent press conference, insisting the winger can become “even more decisive for us” and he is soon expected to sign a new contract.
If Lazio manage to keep Felipe Anderson beyond this summer – which is certainly plausible given their impressive financial results – that is a frightening prospect for defenders across the peninsula.
Read more from Serie A Expert Adam Digby