England skipper Gerrard earns playmaker praise from Pirlo
Steven Gerrard has received a ringing endorsement from Juventus and Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo for the success he is enjoying in a similar position to the Azzurri metronome.
England and Italy last met competitively in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 where, inevitably, the Three Lions lost on penalties. They will do battle again at the World Cup this summer in Group C amid the Amazonian heat of Manaus.
Cesare Prandelli’s Azzurri are 11/8 favourites to win that opening game, with an England victory rated just as likely as a draw by Coral at 2/1. A repeat of the no score draw two years ago is an 11/2 shot here.
Reds boss Brendan Rodgers made the tactical switch this season now that Gerrard no longer has the legs to make box-to-box bursts. Deployed as a deep-lying playmaker, the Kop idol is joint-top of the Premier League assists table this term – alongside England colleague and fellow Scouser Wayne Rooney, and club teammate Luis Suarez – with nine.
Pirlo, 34, is full of praise for the way Gerrard has slotted into this new role. “The intelligent players adapt,” he said. “Steven Gerrard has the ability to do that.
“He is an excellent passer of the ball, possesses an intelligent football brain, and has great vision. He has all the qualities to play a deeper role.
“If you look after yourself and are willing to adapt, there is no reason why you can’t play at the top level until your late 30s. Gerrard is a top professional, it is very possible he has many years left for Liverpool and England in a new role.”
As captain of his country, Gerrard is a lock at 1/20 to make national boss Roy Hodgson’s 23-man World Cup roster. He is also heavily odds-on at 1/8 to start the Italy game.
With leading English marksman Daniel Sturridge the obvious candidate to partner Wayne Rooney in attack, Gerrard will have plenty of forward movement ahead of him to ping the ball out into promising positions.
Hodgson must consider replicating Rodgers’ tactic at the World Cup and leave midfield running to younger legs in the form of Jack Wilshere (1/6 to go to Brazil), Gerrard’s Anfield colleague Jordan Henderson (5/4) and Ross Barkley (8/15).
It is a major bone of contention how many 30-somethings make the Three Lions squad this summer. Michael Carrick, 32, has been one of reigning Premier League champions Manchester United’s best performers in a difficult first season under David Moyes.
Yet Hodgson can ill-afford to select him and another elder statesman in Frank Lampard – who turns 36 during the World Cup finals – alongside Gerrard. Carrick and Lampard remain odds-on, however, for spots at 2/7 and 1/3 respectively.