Felipe Anderson is the key Manchester United transfer rumour du jour.
There is certainly enough grist to the rumour to engender plenty of coverage. Speaking to Sky Sport Italia after Lazio's 3-1 win over Fiorentina on Saturday (h/t Football Italia), Anderson said: "Will I be a Lazio player in February? I don’t know. I am concentrated on doing my job and doing well here, because I realise that I’m not going through a good period of form."
Anderson came off the bench and scored in that game, his fifth Serie A goal of the season and first since his brace against Torino on 25 October.
According to Paul Hetherington of the Daily Star:
The Brazil midfielder is entitled to five per cent of the fee from Lazio. And that appears to be a sticking point—even though the Italian club now seem keen to see the deal go through. They believe Anderson, 22, has suffered a dip in form and has changed his attitude since being linked with United.
The Rome club now hope to agree a fee with the Old Trafford club in this month’s transfer window.
Louis van Gaal was specifically asked about Anderson in his post-match press conference following United's narrow 1-0 FA Cup third-round win over Sheffield United on Saturday.
Of course, the manager did not answer the question with reference to Anderson. Rather, he outlined again his aversion to buying players in January, but he said if the right player was available, then United would act.
So is Anderson the right player? Does the Lazio winger have what it takes to be the "speedy winger" about whom Van Gaal has so often spoken?
The first thing to say is that positionally, he is an excellent fit. This season, he has played on both the left and right flanks in Lazio's 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations. Barring wing- and full-back, that is every position on either flank taken care of. Van Gaal's preference for positionally flexible players is clear, and Anderson is one of those.
Bleacher Report's lead tactics writer Sam Tighe said of Anderson: "He is delightfully inventive and flashy, can play on either wing and would be just the breath of fresh air United need."
As Anderson acknowledged himself, in spite of his five league goals, this season has not seen him at his best. Indeed, he has just one assist to his name in Serie A.
Last season was an altogether much more impressive affair. He finished the campaign with 10 goals and seven assists in the league. He was WhoScored.com's man of the match in eight of his 32 appearances, an impressive percentage that shows just how vital an on-form Anderson was to Lazio.
It was his breakout season in Europe. He moved to Rome in the summer of 2013 but arrived injured and played just 529 minutes of league football in 2013/14, never managing to find the net.
The Brazilian had arrived from Santos, having broken into the first team there as a teenager in 2010.
It was not until 2015, though, that he made his debut for the national team, coming on as a substitute in a friendly against Mexico. It is perhaps telling he has not yet established himself as a regular in the Brazil side in spite of the country's relative underperformance in recent years.
Anderson's key strengths as a player are his creativity and invention—he has a range of tricks and flicks that can help him beat players at speed. He is particularly effective on the counter-attack thanks to his speed and control, which would be something of an issue given Manchester United under Van Gaal so rarely find themselves in that position.
How effective he would be at breaking down stubborn defences with those tricks remains to be seen.
He has an excellent range of passing and is capable of the sublime—witness his glorious lofted through ball for Stefano Mauri's goal in the Rome derby in January 2015.
He also has a fierce shot on him. Three of his 10 goals last season came from outside the box and two of his five from this season have done so from a total of 33 shots from outside the area last season and 15 this.
He is capable of mixing it up from outside the box too. Although his piledriver is powerful, he has the subtlety to curl a ball into the top corner from range.
Only Jesse Lingard has scored from outside of the box in the league for United this season. Wayne Rooney and Memphis Depay have both been trying, with 21 and 19 shots from distance respectively, but the long-range breakthrough has been hard to come by for the Red Devils. Anderson would improve this statistic.
Last season, he averaged at total of 1.5 key passes per 90 minutes and 0.6 accurate crosses per 90 minutes. Neither of those compares particularly favourably with United's creative players in the 2014/15 campaign, though.
Angel Di Maria—the player in last season's squad to whom Anderson is probably the most comparable—managed an average of 2.8 key passes and 2.3 accurate crosses per 90 minutes in what was hardly an unqualified success of a season.
It is important to point out Anderson attempted far fewer crosses than Di Maria—as evidenced by the fact the Brazilian put in an average of just 2.7 inaccurate attempts per 90 minutes compared to the Argentinian's 8.6.
The fact remains, though, it is not yet clear whether Anderson's output is at the elite level. He had a difficult start to his time at Lazio, then a fine season last time out and is now enduring another difficult season.
And while, as Tighe said, his style would be a breath of fresh air, something that is sorely needed at Old Trafford, would Van Gaal allow him to express himself at his improvisational best?
Don't know much about Felipe Anderson but with 1 goal & no assists in his last 10 games he seems perfect to fit into this United side...— Jay (@RFFH) January 10, 2016
No attacking player has truly thrived at United under Van Gaal. Di Maria, in spite of his impressive numbers was eventually benched and then deemed surplus to requirements. Wayne Rooney has not found his best form either as a goalscorer or provider.
Juan Mata is in the midst of an 11-match dry spell in front of goal and has provided just one assist since 30 September.
Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao both slumped last season, Memphis has been unable to shine this season. Adnan Januzaj was sent on loan to Borussia Dortmund. The list goes on.
Anthony Martial has been the exception to the rule, and perhaps Anderson's talent would allow him to have a similar impact, but Van Gaal's history with improvisational and unpredictable Brazilian forwards does not offer much in the way of hope for a successful outcome.
Lazio statement on Felipe Anderson: "We rejected a €50m bid from Man Utd in August; nothing has changed since then" pic.twitter.com/cYRjHoIWs0— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) January 9, 2016
On the one hand, Anderson would be an exciting addition to a squad in need of excitement. On the other, his career so far has shown a lack of consistency, and there must surely be doubts about him as a fit for Van Gaal's approach.
Anderson's acquisition would be a risky one, but United do need to take some risks to try and improve the attacking aspect of their game. Invention and speed of both movement and passing have been lacking from United's front line, and the Brazilian would help with that.
Whether he is the ideal choice or not, there would be plenty of positives to his arrival at Old Trafford were that to come to pass.
Quotations obtained firsthand except where otherwise stated.
All advanced statistics per WhoScored.com.