I was very happy with Strootman, Michael Bradley and Miralem Pjanic. The midfield is the heart of the team and the heart of my game. Obviously, that's why I need several good players in that area. These are midfielders that know how to change positions and today you saw that Kevin, Michael and Miralem are capable of pushing forward
These were the words of Rudi Garcia following Roma's dismantling of the MLS All-Stars last week, or, as they're more commonly known, the Thierry Henry Football Experience. But were these mere platitudes designed to placate the media masses, or an indication of the man's actual plans for his midfield?
Not to bury the lead here, but is there anything within those 59 words that indicates how Rudi will utilize Michael Bradley?
If you want to take a look back at Bradley's signing with Roma, or a more nuanced look at his on the pitch performances, I'll refer you to the links above. In sum, Bradley's greatest gifts last season were his passing precision (though not in the final third) and tackling rate (highest among midfielders).
But where will those tools fit within Garcia's gameplan? You may have noticed our new Dutchmen has availed himself quite well already. So, if in the deepest recesses of your mind you thought to yourself, "Oh, there it is. That's what was missing' you're not alone. That "that" is Kevin Strootman, the destroyer of Michael Bradley dreams...maybe.
Truth be told, I wanted to float this out here immediately after the MLS All-Star game, but life, as it tends to, got in the way (archeological digs, Double Dare reenactments, and my endless search for the perfect undershirt). So while it may have lost some of its initial panache, the question still remains valid--particularly as he's featured regularly throughout the preseason--what is Rudi Garcia's game plan for our dear Michael Bradley?
As you may recall, Bradley, though he remained firmly in the middle third of Roma's 4-3-3 last year, filled a variety of roles last season, each with its own subtle, yet substantial effect on the product on the pitch. Under the nicotine stained guiding hand of Zeman last season, Bradley had veritable carte blanche on both the X and Y axis (think back to highschool).However, once Andreazzoli manned the sidelines, Bradley's profligate ways were hemmed in, and the American was reverted to a much more holding and/or defensive role.
So whether he was the deep lying playmaker, the last line of midfield cover, or the final link up to the forwards, Bradley's performances and decision making had drastic effects on those around him, often dictating the freedom of movement and defensive responsibilities of his teammates. And, if we're being honest (and lets be), the who/what/when/where of Michael Bradley last season was really dependent upon the mental well-being of Daniele De Rossi. No matter your opinion of him, Bradley was as advertised; part protector of the defense, part progenitor of offense, solid yet not spectacular. He just did it far more often than anyone could have anticipated a year ago.
So what about this season? Can we really draw any conclusions from any of Garcia's post match comments this summer?
Obviously, discerning Garcia's plans for one solitary player is a tough ask, simply because it's dependent upon his designs for the remaining ten men, to say nothing of Sabatini's 11th hour schemes.
Though the North American Tour was less than a month long, two things should be readily apparent: A) Kevin Strootman is already, without suiting up in an official match, an indispensable part of the club's present and future, and B) Miralem's moment in the sun may have finally arrived. Perhaps it was seeing him from the opposing touchline in Ligue 1 that did it, or simply a leap of faith, but whatever the case may be, he seems to have cemented his place Garcia's XI.
So where does that leave Michael?
Last season at Lille, Garcia relied primarily on the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, though he did run variations of both the classic Christmas tree and diamond formations, using Florent Balmont and Marvin Martin in the Bradley role. So to paraphrase Garcia, Bradley's ability to change positions, minute-to-minute and match-to-match, might be his biggest benefit to Garcia's gameplan. In such a jack-of-all-trades role, Bradley's greatest gifts (pace and passing accuracy) will be his greatest advantage.
So while Bradley has his merits and can fill a variety of roles, we could spend hours dissecting the various formations, detailing who goes where and who does what, but what really matters is that the key to Bradley's ascendency last season may have been erased.
The potential and mere presence of Kevin Strootman removes virtually all of the ambiguity that plagued last year's midfield rotation (There's no debating it, he's in the starting XI until he's crowned King of the Netherlands and has to leave the game altogether). There is no strange obsession with Panagiotis Tachtsidis, and no pushing and pulling of Pjanic to open the window of opportunity for Bradley.
So for Bradley and Bradley supporters alike, we're left to hope that his versatility and tenacity is really what Garcia craves from his players, because this midfield, which is suddenly supremely talented, is also incredibly congested, although in the most ideal way possible.
Shifting from Zeman, to Andreazzoli, to Garcia is an awful lot of upheaval crammed into twelve months. But if the past calendar year has had one constant, it's been the dissection of Daniele De Rossi; his psyche, his performance and his future.
If there's one shred of hope for Bradley securing significant minutes this season, it's surely the reappearance of last year's midfield melodrama, The Bald vs The Bearded.
So don't go burning your #4's just yet, Bradley may yet surprise us all.