When Andrea Pirlo arrived at NYCFC mid-season last year, he got a lot of assists, but wasn’t utilized properly. Jason Kreis wanted to play a 4-4-2, and at his age, Pirlo couldn’t do the defensive work required of him in this system. However, this year, the new coach Patrick Vieira instituted a 4-3-3 system, and put Andoni Iraola behind Pirlo to provide some defensive cover. Iraola was no N’Golo Kante, but he did a good enough job to keep NYCFC in contention. This shield allowed Pirlo to ping balls forward, and helped him get 11 assists. When he didn’t play against Toronto FC in the playoffs, his presence was missed.
Andrea Pirlo: 2015 vs 2016
Pirlo seemingly had a much better season in 2016. When examining the total statistics he did have a better season. But, most of the increase in total statistics was due to him playing more minutes, not being a more effective player. On a per 90 basis, he only improved on goals and tackles, while decreasing on assists, goals + assists, interceptions, and clearances.
Some of the decrease in per 90 statistics can also be attributed to the coaching change. Viera’s 4-3-3 didn’t require Pirlo to do as much defensive work, so he didn’t accrue as many clearances, interceptions, and tackles per game. Kries wanted him to play the more defensive midfield role of his heyday, which he just couldn’t do anymore. However, the statistics don’t show the positive impact Pirlo had on this season. He was a leader on and off the pitch.
Andrea Pirlo Comparison with Other Top Midfielders
Compared to other top midfielders, Pirlo did not fare too well this season. He had the least goals per 90, and the second least assists per 90. Only Lee Nguyen had less assists per 90. However, Pirlo was tied for the sixth most assists in MLS at 11. But, Khiry Shelton and Tommy McNamara had two less assists with a significantly less salary. How NYCFC will handle his large salary will be interesting going forward, because he has higher jersey sales then the two aforementioned players.
One area he did fare well against other top attacking midfielders was minutes played. Out of the top attacking midfielders, he played the second most minutes. This is no small feat for a 37-year-old. His ability to stay healthy really helped NYCFC. When he was out hurt in one of the playoff games, they definitely missed his midfield presence.
Pirlo has one more year on his contract, and NYCFC seems like they will not offer an extension. Also, Pirlo will likely hang up his boots at the end of the season regardless of if NYCFC offer him a new contract.
Depending on who NYCFC gets to fill in for Frank Lampard and Iraola, Pirlo could have a very different role next season. Pirlo’s last season contracted with NYCFC might be his most important season. With no new midfielders signed, Pirlo will be responsible for carrying the midfield. In order to help NYCFC advance further in the playoffs, Pirlo needs to increase his goals and assists. If he is able to play the same number of minutes as this season, it could help hide NYCFC’s lack of midfield depth.