It seems Anderson Luis de Abreu Oliveira (Anderson) simply can’t catch a break at Manchester United. Much was expected of him after the club paid Porto a reported £20 million for him in the summer of 2007. However, a couple off-pitch issues as well as injuries — for the most part in the case of the latter — have seen the enthusiastic Brazilian fail to live up to his billing.
The fact that he has been constantly played out of his natural position hasn’t helped matters either. It’s a well-known fact that the Brazilian prefers to play in attacking midfield; but since his arrival in 2007, he has rarely featured there.
Flix & Trix will analyse Anderson’s performance over the last 3 seasons along with Manchester United’s other central midfielders in an effort to finally get to the bottom of the Brazilian’s problems on the pitch.* This analysis will be broken up into 3 basic parts: Defense, Passing, and Attack.
Statistical Averages/game (2009-present) — Defense
As can be seen, while Anderson isn’t on par with Michael Carrick, who is the best defensively out of all the club’s central midfielders, he puts in a respectable shift off the ball. This has worked against him.
Sir Alex Ferguson admitted early in the Brazilian’s United career that he and his staff were still trying to figure out his best position. A seemingly never-ending supply of energy combined with an admirable willingness to track back saw Ferguson decide to position Anderson deeper in an effort to train him to accentuate his athleticism and altruism. This has failed, however.
While Anderson’s positioning is good, his enthusiasm has resulted in his timing in the challenge being poor. His fouls per game stat shows this. Thus, Anderson should not be asked to play the role of a covering midfielder. In fact, other than Carrick, no other central midfielder at United is capable of providing sufficient defensive cover. This partly explains why United concede the most shots (goal-scoring opportunities) and make the least interceptions of all the clubs in the top 5. These are problems that a natural defensive midfielder can solve, however.
Interestingly, though, Paul Scholes’ defensive stats are quite similar to those of Anderson, yet Scholes has performed much better than the Brazilian in the deeper role. How can this be?
Statistical Averages/game (2009-present) — Passing
|Pass Co. %||82.9||87.2||90.6||86.3||90.9|
|T. Ball Co. %||28.6||30.4||38||25.7||33.3|
|Lo. Ball Co. %||63.2||77.7||78.6||75.5||75|
United’s attacking play centers around controlling the game in the center of the pitch and then getting it out to the flanks. This has proven to be effective mainly because Carrick and Scholes — United’s first-choice midfield partnership — are incredibly neat in possession, as their pass completion stats and lack of dispossession and turnovers confirm. In addition, they are excellent at dictating the tempo of the game. They do just what one would expect from deep-lying playmakers — they stay deep, make themselves available for the pass and distribute the ball with composure and precision.
In stark contrast, Anderson is no deep-lying playmaker. For one thing, his long range passing isn’t good enough to consistently provide ammunition for advanced players from deep. This has nothing to do with his vision, which is quite immaculate, as his stat for key passes indicates. Instead, the problem lies with his passing technique, which is inconsistent. So while Anderson plays the odd fantastic ball over the top, more often than not, his long range passes miss their intended targets, sometimes by a mile.
So while Scholes and Anderson are no different defensively, as far as passing is concerned, Anderson simply can’t compare. This is why Scholes thrives in a deeper position and Anderson doesn’t.
Statistical Averages/game (2009-present) — Attack
Any doubts about Anderson’s overall technical ability should be dismissed given the fact that he has completed the most dribbles out of United’s central midfielders. It indicates that he is good at running with the ball at the opposition — typical of a good attacking midfielder.
That said, Anderson started the current season very well because he was given licence to get forward more. He was often partnered with Tom Cleverley, whose preference for the short pass allowed Anderson to see more of the ball. This had a negative impact when one considers his poor long range passing, but it also did him the world of good as he was able to make driving runs from deep with the ball at his feet.
It was great to see the Brazilian finally hit some form, but the downside of the Anderson-Cleverley partnership was the lack of defensive stability it offered — gaps were left in midfield.
As far as his shooting goes, Anderson is well known for his long range shots, but not for the reason he’d like to be. Noteworthy, though, is the fact that long range shooting is about confidence in addition to technique, as this audacious attempt from Cristiano Ronaldo versus Porto illustrates.
Anderson is a good finisher and is capable of finding the target from range. He also showed in a pre-season game versus Boca Juniors in 2009 that he is capable of taking free-kicks as well. However, a few consecutive ‘orbited’ shots early in his United career in addition to the stick he received for those attempts have hurt his confidence. Nowadays, he looks for the pass rather than the shot and shoots only when reasonably close to goal. A consistent run in ideal advanced positions will see that confidence return and the real Anderson finally shine through.
The stats show that while Anderson can’t adapt to the role of a covering midfielder, he has done reasonably well when given a role that allows him to get forward from deep. His long passing presents a genuine problem, however. He needs to be pushed higher up the field if he is to realise his true potential. He would be equally at home either in an advanced central position or on the right side of midfield as a wide playmaker where he’d use his vision, pace, eye for the final ball, and great dribbling technique to devastating effect. The solution is simple, but seeing it come to fruition is where the difficulty lies.
Nani, Antonio Valencia, and Wayne Rooney all stand in Anderson’s way as far as those 2 positions are concerned. Valencia and Rooney in particular, who have really impressed this season, would certainly prove hard to displace from the first team. In addition, United don’t play with a natural attacking midfielder. Rooney is used in a 4-4-2 as a deep-lying forward, while Anderson would need to play in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1. So what is he to do?
He has 3 choices: (1) Re-invent himself by improving his long range passing and tackling and properly adapt to the deep central midfield role (2) Have a heart-to-heart chat with Ferguson, asking him to play further up field or (3) Leave the club. Sadly, the last option seems the most realistic.
Back in 2010, Ferguson stated that Anderson was talking about leaving the club because he wasn’t playing. Indeed, a player of his enthusiasm wouldn’t be too happy either warming the bench or staying away from the thick of the action in the final third, where he really belongs.
The entire situation is rather harsh on Anderson. As talented as he is, it seems he may never be properly utilised at United and thus may never reach his full potential. Even though the solution is quite simple, there are established players preventing it from coming to fruition.
His exit from the club has been mooted for some time, and with reinforcements reportedly being lined up by Sir Alex Ferguson for next season, it may very well be that this is the year we see Anderson leave. He’ll be pegged as a flop, but be assured, he’ll have the last word on that.
*- Only the current season of Tom Cleverley’s career will be considered seeing that this is his debut season with United. Also, Darren Fletcher’s stats will be considered for the current season seeing that he featured for a respectable amount of games.
Stats courtesy of whoscored