They were born four years old and 2,788 miles apart, but the careers of Patrick Vieira and Steven Gerrard seem destined to be forever intertwined.
Saturday’s clash between Crystal Palace and Aston Villa pits the two Premier League greats against each other on the Selhurst Park bench, opening a second chapter in a story that saw them go head-to-head 15 times in the 2000s. when they were considered among the best midfielders on the planet.
Twelve of those battles occurred when Vieira’s Arsenal took on Gerrard’s Liverpool, and both men were the metaphorical beats of their respective teams.
Vieira did not become captain of Arsenal until 2002 and Gerrard Liverpool until 2003, but both established themselves as leaders of their clubs much earlier. The fact that neither has been substituted in their 12 games speaks volumes for their importance to two of England’s biggest clubs, and both have legendary status at the Emirates and Anfield respectively, for life and beyond. .
Steven Gerrard and Patrick Vieira shake hands after their last game between Liverpool and Arsenal, in the Premier League clash at Highbury in May 2005.
Crystal Palace Manager Vieira welcomes you to Gerrard’s Aston Villa in Selhurst Park on Saturday
Gerrard celebrates Ollie Watkins’ goal in his debut as Aston Villa manager last weekend
Their styles were similar too, certainly in the early years of their fighting. Gerrard eventually became a No. 10 with Rafa Benitez and then a deep playmaker later in his career, but in his early years he was a marauding midfielder, strong tackler, and box-to-box, much like Vieira.
When they came face to face, their eyes were drawn to both, and theirs to each other. Neither feared a challenge and neither backed down. It was an exciting viewing.
Given that Liverpool did not finish above Arsenal in the Premier League table in any of the six seasons that Vieira and Gerrard faced each other, with the Gunners winning two titles in that time, it may come as a surprise to learn that Gerrard had the best record when the two met as players.
In fact, the English had something of a curse on the French in the early years of their rivalry. Perhaps because Gerrard, at 6-foot-1, was probably the only midfielder in the early 2000s who could match Vieira’s 6-foot-4 of physicality. The youngest Roy Keane, of course, found other ways to combat his former enemy.
Gerrard challenges Vieira during the 2002 Community Shield
Vieira stops Gerrard during Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Liverpool at Highbury in April 2004
VIEIRA vs. GERRARD
For Arsenal and Liverpool: played 12, Vieira wins 4, Gerrard wins 5, draws 3
Total: Played 15, Vieira won 5, Gerrard won 7, tied 3
Vieira lost his first four matches against Gerrard, and it took until their sixth meeting to register his first win. In fact, Arsenal performed better without Vieira when they played Gerrard’s Liverpool, winning the two games against them that he missed through injury or suspension. They also won the only games Gerrard missed against them, in 1999 and 2005.
The most famous of those early victories for Gerrard was the 2001 FA Cup final, when Michael Owen’s magnificent late double snatched victory from the jaws of defeat of Gerard Houllier’s team after Arsene Wenger’s team dominate the game. There was also a memorable 4-0 win at Anfield in December 2000 in which Gerrard scored.
Vieira finally began facing Gerrard from 2002, losing just one of his last eight games against Gerrard’s Liverpool, including a 4-2 win for the Invincibles at Highbury in April 2004. Later that year, Vieira scored to no avail. for Arsenal in a famous Liverpool win at Anfield, with Neil Mellor scoring a long-term goal in injury time.
In total of their 12 matches against each other for Liverpool and Arsenal, Gerrard won five and Vieira won four. Gerrard also had the slight advantage the other three times he faced Vieira.
Vieira took revenge on Gerrard for the defeat in the 2001 FA Cup final when two goals from Zinedine Zidane of late saw France come back to beat England 2-1 at Euro 2004, although Inter Milan de Vieira lost both games in the knockout round of the Champions League against Gerrard. Liverpool in 2008.
Premier Legaue legends challenge for a header during a 2002 Premier League match
Vieira last faced Gerrard as an Inter Milan player in 2008
His early managerial careers have taken different paths, with Vieira cutting his teeth in New York City and Nice, while Gerrard took his first job with the Rangers, but again there are inevitable similarities between the two.
Vieira had an apprenticeship as a youth coach at Manchester City with Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, while Gerrard had a similar, albeit shorter, period doing the same at Liverpool with Jurgen Klopp.
They have also managed almost the same number of professional games at the moment. Gerrard, now 41, has taken over 194 games compared to 192 for Vieira, 45. Gerrard’s overall win rate is much better, 65 versus Vieira’s 40.6, however that’s to be expected given the clubs they have managed.
What is more pertinent is that both managers have similar philosophies, with an emphasis on possession and pressure. Vieira has been impressive in how he has turned Crystal Palace from a defensive team into a forward-footed team in such a short amount of time, while Gerrard looks to get his teams to play an equally fluid and high-paced 4-3-3.
We may not get the blood and thunder we saw from Vieira and Gerrard in the 2000s when their teams meet on Saturday, but this will surely be the first of many managerial collisions between two Premier League legends.