Yesterday, under performing Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli spoke of his surprise at the quality of his new team, stating: 'I've been really surprised. I knew they were a very good team, but i didn't know they were as good as they are."
Probably Balotelli's most revealing statement was him putting captain Steven Gerrard on the same level as Italy legend Andrea Pirlo, sparking the most interesting midfield debate since 'Gerrard vs. Lampard', the one that has clouded English football for the last decade.
Gerrard vs Lampard
What is it about Gerrard that has Liverpool fans falling head over heels for him? Balotelli argues it's his vision, technique and power that overrules Lampard's vastly superior goal tally - for both club and country - a factor that actually contributes to winning football matches. But who's to say?
That debate is long gone now that Gerrard has dropped back into defensive midfield and adjusted his game to fit the deeper lying role, and to such a successful extent that he is now being compared to one of the greats of his new role, Pirlo.
Pirlo is one of the most decorated players in world football at the moment, with 15 club honours to his name, including five Serie A titles and two Champions Leagues.
Although Gerrard is not as well decorated as his Italian counterpart, with nine honours to his name, he may feel he has one up on him. The 2005 Champions League final saw Gerrard captain his Liverpool side back from a 3-0 halftime deficit to win on penalties in what has gone down as the greatest European final of the modern era.
Vision and technique is not where the similarities between these two greats end. With similar levels of experience and set-piece ability, Balotelli may have been right to compare the two.
The most notable difference, however, as Gerrard's teammate has pointed out, is that Pirlo brings an extra level of finesse to his play and, most obviously, his free-kicks, whereas the Englishman plays a more powerful game with direct passes, both short and long, being a key feature of his play.
This is where the debate begins to draw to a close as the similarities begin to fade and a defining factor comes into play. The power has to run out sometime. The former England captain can't keep up this level of play for too much longer and that leaves his club in a sticky situation when the battery does eventually die.
Pirlo, on the other hand, has continued to keep reserve fuel in the tank throughout his career, thanks to his more delicate play. The bearded legend is undoubtedly the most composed player in world football, demonstrating a certain nonchalance in his play that is near impossible to replicate.
Despite his tender age of 35, the man remains the best defensive midfielder of his era.
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