The Rio Report

Gerrard or Pirlo: Who will win the midfield battle in Manaus?

The Rio Report

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Squawka attempt to answer the question of who will dominate the midfield battle in Manaus: Steven Gerrard or Andrea Pirlo?

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Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo face off against each other on Saturday as England and Italy open their World Cup campaigns in a game that gives Roy Hodgson's side the chance to exact some revenge upon the side that knocked them out of Euro 2012 two years ago.

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That contest in Kiev was settled by a penalty shoot-out, with Pirlo dinking home a Panenka, but the abiding memory was the midfielder master stroking passes around the pitch and leaving England trailing in his wake.

Gerrard has adapted to a new role, similar to Pirlo's, in the last few months but will the Italian maestro reign supreme again or will England's captain dominate proceedings on Saturday?

The captain was handed his new role by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers last season and it worked a treat as the Reds romped their way to the top of the Premier League and came within a whisker of winning the title, just finishing second below Manchester City on the final day.

After Gerrard was moved to his deeper role, Liverpool lost just one league game out of 18. That run also included 14 wins, which were a part of an 11-match winning streak, and three draws.

His passionate but controlling presence at the base of the midfield worked well in a diamond alongside Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling, with Joe Allen often stepping in if needed.

Gerrard now seems comfortable in that position and will need to remain at his composed best in Manaus at the weekend. Pirlo will probably be afforded space and time on the ball due to the heat so Gerrard needs to be even more impressive in order to take control from the Italian.

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In Juventus' final 18 league matches last season, Pirlo completed a slightly higher percentage of his passes, with 88% hitting their target compared to Gerrard's 85%.

Gerrard completed 973 passes in that time while Pirlo completed slightly more with 994, including 134 against Verona in February (above). This suggests that the Italian might edge proceedings on Saturday night but a difference of 19 successful passes over 18 games is barely anything at all so the pair are quite even in that department.

The Englishman scored 10 goals in the run-in for Liverpool, but eight were from the penalty spot - he may need to rely on that particular skill at some point this summer.

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While both Gerrard and Pirlo play in the same position, their roles are slightly different. Gerrard is more confrontational and wins more tackles than the Italian, who tends not to tackle as much.

Gerrard won 54% of his 81 tackle attempts in his new role while Pirlo only won 33% of his (21/63) over the last 18 games.

Another big difference between the pair is the number of created chances in the time Gerrard moved deep. The Englishman created 27, assisting seven, with Pirlo creating 43 chances and assisting six goals in the same time period - higher than any of his Juventus team-mates over the second half of the season.

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Gerrard's role at Liverpool isn't as creative as Pirlo's at Juventus and if the Italian gets into a rhythm against England and starts to dictate the tempo of the match, gaps may open and he could expose England, setting them off to an early defeat.

This will certainly be a tight battle. Both players completed a similar number of passes while Gerrard was busier in the tackle, but Pirlo can create chances at will. Both players' set-piece delivery is world class so it could be anyone's guess as to who will dominate when England meet Italy on Saturday.

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