Stats surprise you at times.
I must admit the return of Patrick Vieira to the Premier League has saddened me quite a bit.
Not because I think he shouldn’t have tainted the Arsenal memories by turning out for Manchester City – nothing could tarnish what Paddy achieved at the club.
Simply because he looks such a shadow of his former self.
With Patrick Vieira at his disposal, Arsene Wenger effectively had the luxury of lining out for most games with more than 11 players on the pitch.
For Vieira was one-and-a-half players for Arsenal. At least. During any 30 seconds in any given game, Vieira could switch from defensive frontscreen to enforcer hunting the ball high up the pitch to linkman with the front two.
Or he might elect to charge late into the box to get on the end of a Bergkamp loft or Pires cross.
Little wonder that Arsene has almost entirely given up playing with just two central midfielders since Vieira’s departure. He was thoroughly spoiled by the Frenchman’s dynamism.
It’s been saddening then to see the one-time colossus drift through City games looking a shadow of his once-imposing self.
He doesn’t seem to get to the pitch of the ball in time to win the tackles he once crunched through.
His immaculate touch is still there of course but his patented move doesn’t really work any more. Where he once nonchalantly lifted the ball over opponents’ heads with those gangly legs and powered dismissively away, he now doesn’t seem to have the spring to emerge with the ball. Tangles ensue. It’s undignified.
So why is Mancini picking him? Why did he sign him?
62 minutes into City’s win over Wigan last night, I think it was James McCarthy that Vieira tried to close down deep on Wigan’s right. He got nowhere near him, jogged away and simply stayed up the pitch as Wigan broke forward. Yet the move broke down almost immediately and the ball fell to Vieira. Swiftly and incisively he released Tevez and City had their best chance of the half so far.
Hmm. Experience maybe?
Afterwards, I had a look at the fantastic Guardian chalkboard stats. To be honest, I didn’t expect the results to work in Patrick’s favour. I compared his performance to the one Alex Song put in at Stoke – his last full game in the Arsenal midfield and one where it was widely accepted he had a fine game.
Interesting results. Each made a single interception, neither made a “block”. Song attempted 47 passes, completing 41, while Vieira made 52 passes, completing 44.
What about tackles though? Well, Alex Song attempted 4 tackles in the game, missing just one. Last night Vieira made nine tackles, winning eight.
But how might Vieira’s performance compare with the Premier League’s newest self-styled king of the reducer and emperor of hustle and bustle? Against Bolton on Saturday, Darren Fletcher attempted 42 passes, completing 34 and he won just 4 of the 7 tackles he attempted.
Lies and damn statistics maybe. But Vieira’s numbers in City’s win at Fulham are quite similar. He missed 4 of his 7 tackles but made 35 of 41 passes attempted.
What it surely means, at least, is that we can spare the great man our pity, our sadness and our embarrassement for a little while yet.
Vieira might no longer be one-and-a-half men but he’s man enough to make the best of what’s left of his mighty heart and talent.