Shared between them are 17 ‘caps’ for the Premier League’s most illustrious team - that’s the XI that, each season, fellow professionals elect as the very best in English football’s top division.
When Patrick Vieira was playing for Arsenal, he was voted as the league’s most essential central midfielder for six successive years. When Frank Lampard was at his high work-rate, high goalscoring peak as a Chelsea midfielder, he was picked three seasons on the trot for the Professional Footballers’ Association all-star side.
Lampard and Vieira coincided in that XI in 2003/04, when Steven Gerrard was also included, one of Gerrard’s record eight selections for the PFA Premier League Team of the Year while he was a Liverpool player.
This is the first season this trio of iconic former midfielders have coincided as Premier League managers, and as it approaches its close, they are once again monitoring each other’s moves. Vieira will take his Crystal Palace to Lampard’s Everton this evening with their respective clubs in reverse positions to those that were widely forecast at the beginning of the season.
Vieira, asked to take over at Palace from Roy Hodgson last summer, had been predicted serious challenges in his first job as a first-team manager in English football, and that one of those challenges might be a battle against the threat of relegation. That possibility has been skilfully kept away by Vieira, whose Palace have already exceeded the 44 points they achieved last season, and reached an FA Cup semi-final.
Burnley’s penultimate fixture takes them to Aston Villa tonight and another episode in a surreal series of Villa games in which Gerrard, the Villa manager since November, has a direct influence on the fortunes of the major clubs of his native Merseyside. Nine days ago, Villa took a third-minute lead at home to title-chasing Liverpool, who responded with a comeback that helped them keep them in the hunt for a Premier League crown that will carry into Sunday’s last match day.
Gerrard, who played more than 500 Premier League matches for Liverpool, and Villa have a key role this weekend too. They meet Manchester City. A victory or a draw for the team managed by the Liverpool legend over the league leaders would allow Liverpool to overtake City if Jurgen Klopp’s side were to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers.
More immediately, Villa can help or harm Everton, the club whom Gerrard regularly thwarted in local derbies as a player. If Burnley lose at Villa, or fail to at least match whatever result Everton achieve against Palace, Lampard will breathe easier.
If Burnley win or draw, they would move above Leeds, who have an inferior goal difference, and out of the relegation zone.
Like Vieira, Gerrard can look back on a satisfactory initiation to senior management in England. He came to Villa when they were 17th in the table, and had lost five successive league games. They are now 14th, and, should they take maximum points from their last two games, a finish in the top half of the table is possible.
Lampard, appointed by Everton at the end of January, is contemplating a more urgent set of sums. “We’ve got two games left to get two points,” he said. “We understand the situation and know what we want.” He also recalled what the situation was with half-an-hour left of last Sunday’s home game against Brentford: Everton had three points at that stage, 2-1 ahead. They lost 3-2, had had two men sent off by the final whistle, and were deeply frustrated by refereeing decisions.
The red cards mean Salomon Rondon and Jarrad Branthwaite are suspended against Palace and Fabian Deplh and Yerry Mina unavailable with injury. But the return to match-fitness of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored against Brentford in his first full 90 minutes since early April, is a boost.
Lampard called for cool heads and patience from his players, and loud backing from the fans of a club who have not been outside the top division of English football since 1954. “I think they have to understand the occasion, tap into that. It’s not the fifth game of a season, it’s a game that’s really critical. We have to use that.”