It’s a feverishly anticipated World Cup showdown between arguably the best two deep-lying midfield playmakers in European football, when Italy’s Andrea Pirlo and England’s Steven Gerrard take to the pitch in Manaus for their respective nations’ Group D opener.
England boss Roy Hodgson has insisted that his team are not running scared of the 13/8-Group D favourite’s midfield maestro, but the Three Lions boss will surely have forged a plan to curtail his creative influence.
Below, we size up the two ball-playing wizards Top Trumps style ahead of this fixture in the sweaty surrounds of the amazon.
Ball retention: Gerro 7 / Pirlo 10
One of Pirlo’s most admirable qualities is the way he nurtures the football as if he were a nesting bird looking after an egg. So rare is the sight of the Italian giving up possession you’d be hard-pressed to find footage of it. Unfortunately for England, their skipper is prone to the odd howler in possession (remember his back-pass to Thierry Henry at Euro 2004).
Passing range: Gerro 9 / Pirlo 9
This is one of two categories where the pair simply cannot be separated. Both men have been blessed with the footballing vision equivalent to that of an Eagle’s and the ability to fizz or caress passes from five yards through to 50 in equal measures.
Dead ball delivery: Gerro 10 / Pirlo 10
Similarly, prising these two apart has proved too difficult when it comes to free-kicks and corners. Despite his advancing years Pirlo scored an incredible six times from set pieces last season. Meanwhile, Gerrard’s wand-of-a-right-boot helped Liverpool top the goals-from-dead-balls table with no fewer than 16 courtesy of his pin-point deliveries.
Goal Threat: Gerro 8 / Pirlo 7
Given the Liverpool skipper has scored 11 penalties this season and will almost certainly take on the duty for England as long as Frank Lampard isn’t on the pitch, he immediately edges in front here. The Reds legend has also racked up more goals for his country overall.
Defensive responsibility Gerro 7 / Pirlo 5
For all his fancy footwork and ease of movement, Pirlo is certainly more of a luxury player than his England counterpart, who isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves. According to WhoScored.com, Gerrard put in 2.9 tackles per game for Liverpool this season compared to 1.4 made by the Juve man.
Team influence: Gerro 8 / Pirlo 10
Although his influence over Liverpool has always been unquestionable, Gerro has never managed to exert quite as much control in an England shirt. However, as England witnessed first-hand against Italy at Euro 2012, there is only one man pulling the Azzurri’s strings.
Total: Gerro 49/60 – Pirlo 51/60
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
Fancy a flutter? Sign up today to claim up to £100 in free bets.