Eric Giardini writing from SF for TSG, finally
When we last met, I was on a whirlwind trip to Boston to see Roma and Liverpool play in a friendly at Fenway Park – a game of note as it saw Michael Bradley score his first goal in a Roma jersey. With the pro-American crowd serenading Bradley with “U-S-A” chants, this very well could have been the highlight of Bradley’s tenure with Roma thus far as since that game, things has been, well…rough.
Six matches into the 2012/2013 Serie A campaign see Roma floundering under new manager Zdenek Zeman, as the capital club sit 10th and have just as many points at this juncture as they did under Zeman’s heavily criticized predecessor Luis Enrique. Roma has just one win in a game that they’ve actually played (the club was awarded the victory over Cagliari when the match was called over safety concerns) and things are getting dire as the club that was once touted as Juventus’ only real title contenders look more like sheep in wolf’s clothing. Zeman appears to be more concerned with preserving his aura as the defender of all that is just and good in soccer, while simultaneously having a go at anyone who has had any affiliation with Juventus (look it up, it’s a long history), instead of adjusting his tactics to come out on top where it matters most – the field. While “Zemanlandia,” the term of endearment bestowed upon his swashbuckling, attacking style of play, has been responsible for an impressive 3-1 victory away over Inter, it has also seen the two goal collapse at home to Bologna to lose 3-2 and an awful 4-1 loss to Juventus.
The question you may be asking at this point is “Well, what does this have to do with Michael Bradley?” The answer thus far is, well, it’s unknown.
Bradley has featured just once this season for Roma where he played the entire match in a season-opening 2-2 draw with Catania in the Stadio Olimpico. By all accounts it was an average performance punctuated by setting up the game-tying goal in the 91st minute. Since then, Bradley has not featured for Roma, or the USMNT, after picking up a thigh injury that has kept him out for almost 5 weeks. (He did not make the bench for the trip to Turin on September 29 but I’m more inclined to believe this had more to do with the birth of his first child on the 30th than his health.) He has, however, resumed training with the full squad and returned to the starting lineup this past weekend in a 2-0 victory over Atalanta.
The next question you may have is how the Roma midfield had gotten on without Bradley. It’s been a mixed bag of results. Injuries to other starting midfielders Daniele De Rossi (who has returned to playing) and Miralem Pjanic (who is still out) during this time has produced a revolving door of players see time in the midfield with none of them really cementing a claim to overtake Bradley’s role. Panagiotis Tachtsidis, who has started each game that Bradley has been out, has not shown the same skill he did during the preseason and has actually been subbed off around the 60th minute in Roma’s last two matches.
I originally thought that Tachtsidis would be the biggest threat to Bradley’s spot in the Starting XI but, unfortunately for him, he has not been able to seize his opportunity. Instead, this threat lies with youngster Alessandro Florenzi who, like Tachtsidis, has started each of Roma’s last 4 matches. Unlike his Greek teammate, Florenzi has run away with his opportunity by registering two goals and an assist in this time (and earning himself a significant pay raise in the process). The most “frustrating” thing about Florenzi’s goals are they would be exactly the type of goals that Bradley would be scoring – headers off of late runs in the box and following up on rebounds. I still think a midfield of Bradley – De Rossi – Pjanic is what will be seen if all three are healthy, but Florenzi may prove to be the cause of selection headaches with his play.
This past weekend saw the return for Bradley as he started alongside the aforementioned Tachtsidis and Florenzi in midfield – a strange midfield trio as Zeman opted to start De Rossi on the bench in order to shake things up in the squad by showing no one’s spot is safe. As we are all probably aware by now, Bradley notched his first competitive goal for Roma by putting back a rebound in the 62nd minute before being subbed off 10 minutes later. He was also credited with an 89% pass completion percentage and 3 shots (2 on target). Not a bad return in which he surely did enough to remind Zeman, and the Roma supporters, that he is still around and should not be forgotten in the midfield shuffle.
In the end, I still think Bradley’s place among the Roman starters is still his to lose. While his injury may have opened the door for others to step up and wrangle the spot from him, I don’t think either did enough beyond a shadow of a doubt. That being said, the Bradley v Florenzi battle for that third midfield spot may still be one to watch in the future.