Patrick Vieira providing more questions than answers

When Roberto Mancini made former Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira his first signing as Manchester City boss, a number of questions arised – can Vieira do for City what he did for Arsenal? Would this move propel City to fourth place and bring them Champions League football, or would a past-it Vieira just sit on the bench and be a waste of money?

Last week, Mancini criticised the French midfielder, saying he needs to see an improvement in Vieira’s performances if he wants to make the first team regularly. The City boss said:

“I think Patrick can improve. At Wigan he was better but by the end of the game he was only so-so.

But that is normal because he needs to play more often. Perhaps he is not quite the player the English football supporters remember but I know him very well and I think he still can be.”

Vieira took notice of his manager’s comments and put in an impressive performance against Burnley on Saturday, patrolling the midfield and scoring his first goal for the club. But that is against Burnley, who are hardly the most dangerous opposition, so how will Vieira fare against the likes of Arsenal and Man United, who City still have to play this season? There is no doubt that Vieira is a shadow of the player that left Arsenal, he has lost that pace and spark that made him one of the best midfielder’s in the world and the best in the Premiership, next to United’s Roy Keane. But the question is: what does he have left? And can his experience prevail and help City secure that elusive fourth place in the Premiership this season?

Vieira joined City in January from Inter Milan on a six month deal, with the option for a further year. The Frenchman joined City to improve his chances of getting into France’s World Cup squad but has struggled with a calf injury in his time so far at Eastlands. Let’s take a look at his stats: Vieira has played in 8 games for City since joining in January, starting 5 of them and scoring 1 goal and providing 1 assist. But in the five games Vieira has started for City, they are undefeated, winning four of the games against Burnley, Wigan, Fulham and Bolton and drawing with Stoke. That could be down to the brilliance of players like Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy rather than Vieira’s individual contribution, but when the Frenchman is playing City usually win.

So what is the problem with Vieira at City? Against Wigan last week he was virtually anonymous and even got beaten by Wigan’s Mohamed Diane on numerous occasions, although he did set up Tevez for City’s first goal. Rarely have we seen the Vieira of old though, with the memories of him at Arsenal as the midfield powerhouse with great vision, passing and ball winning skills being just that – a distant memory. Vieira lacks that energy and spark he had in his year’s at Arsenal and so far looks like a shadow of the player that left England in 2005 to join Juventus. Part of the reason for Vieira’s poor form has been injuries and he has had to readjust to the pace of the Premiership, which is a lot faster than Serie A.

But Vieira can still do a job for City. He is still only 33, therefore has a couple of years left in him at the top level. Mancini knew when he signed Vieira that he wasn’t getting the world beater the Frenchman was at Arsenal and signed him to act as cover for first choice midfield duo Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong. Vieira may lack the energy of a De Jong, but his experience and vision will be invaluable to City down the stretch of this season. Vieira has that winning mentality from his time at Arsenal, Juventus and Inter Milan and his experience will be invaluable to City down the stretch of the season.

Vieira can play a key role in City’s future success this season as he allows them to rest key players like De Jong (28 games) and Barry (30 games), who have played in nearly every game for City this season. The Burnley game was hardly the right place to see how good Vieira can be for City, but if he can build on that performance and improve his fitness he could still play an important part for the club this season. What do you think – has Vieira been awful for City or should we just cut him some slack?

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