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Season Preview: Midfield Edition

ROME ITALY - FEBRUARY 02:  Daniele De Rossi of AS Roma reacts during the Serie A match between AS Roma and Brescia Calcio at Stadio Olimpico on February 2 2011 in Rome Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
ROME ITALY - FEBRUARY 02: Daniele De Rossi of AS Roma reacts during the Serie A match between AS Roma and Brescia Calcio at Stadio Olimpico on February 2 2011 in Rome Italy. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Preview: The Midfield

Doesn't exist. Everyone's in the attack.


Well, this is how it began, and this is how it ended. Briefly.

I don't quite know how I was saddled with the midfield, really. Likely because everyone else knew they risked 10,000 words on either end of the hair-bun sandwich were I not placed right in the middle, relegated to Michael Bradley's sleek minimalism, Daniele De Rossi's facial shrubbery which has been oh-so-done, and Jonathan Lucca trialing for X-factor. It's all a non-story, really.


The only thing to which I can compare the absence of Fabio Simplicio's puffy cheeks in that photo is the day I found out Santa Claus wasn't real. Utter devastation. (It was evident sport was an arena in which I had a great deal of potential and instead of the video game system I'd asked for, I got a weight lifting set. I was eight. Santa Claus don't play the future.)

(Admit how flabbergasted you are Daniele isn't the most likely serial killer in the team photo.)

This post isn't quite pointless, but it is in the wrong section and would be flamed on like a delusional, faux-power-tripping internet forum moderator would it be on, well, an internet forum. The attack basically comprises of everyone but the one centerback sitting back on babysitting duty and/or nursing an injury, plus Bogdan Lobont when he inevitably supplants Maarten in net (don't act like it's not happening). Everything else is running that-a-way in permanence. The midfield is not a series of positions or a figmentary "fraction" of the pitch, but a subset of the attack; it's simply the starting position until they hit the straightaway. This is not about journey - this is about a destination.

As for making out the lineup, it's about the numbers. There are too many capable bodies and too few minutes, particularly without Europe, to hand them. This is going to be a problem, since the likelihood one of the two engraved names in the three-man midfield - DDR and Miralem Pjanic - are almost assuredly still going to be on the payroll come September 1. This leaves one open spot and a number of wor
thy gents with which to fill it.

There are much worse problems to have.

The Suspects

Michael Bradley: Pjanic. De Rossi. And...Marquinho. (We'll get to that later.) There's no doubt Bradley fits in with Zeman's athletic system, but does he fit in better than three others? Of course the whole point of upper-half Serie A is having options, and there's finally a legitimate backup for when Daniele De Rossi loses his marbles for six games per season, rather than seeing Fernando Gago do deer-in-halogens for ninety minutes. Plus competition is good, and he can duke it out with Marquinho and Tachtsidis+ for that third spot, which will only benefit all three, regardless of the final name most games.

A hat tip to the suits when noting all that competition comes for less than 10m euros.

Daniele De Rossi: The best defensive midfielder in football. The end.

Alessandro Florenzi: Is his time best served in Rome this season? Will his progress be better served on the practice pitch under Zeman than on a Serie A pitch under someone else? Because that's where his ass is going to be parked unless he rockets up the ladder from nowhere. Now, I'm not quite comparing him with Angel, but there's a lesson to be learned here from Cote: not screwing up and performing with consistency is equally as important as having and showing talent. (Angel's extremely talented - that's beyond debate.) Granted, Zeman's system has more leeway for screwing up, and in fact expects it, but there are, simply put, really good players ahead of him on the pecking order and really good always wins out, regardless of the coach.

(Then again, feel free to read into his shirt number. I have.)

Jonathan Lucca: His ceiling is likely somewhere around a poor man's Kaka, Real Madrid-edition. He's simply not going to get many minutes unless he turns into a poor man's Milan-edition Kaka rather rapidly. He will, however, be the first to spark up a boy band in his off time, so that's something to look out for. That's fine, however - he's young and the Primavera will suit just splendidly.

(He's on the official roster. Throw the kid a bone.)

Marquinho: Identity crisis. He fits here surely now, but in what context? Last year he went from on-loan wing-type to a central midfield who did absolutely nothing of note but shoot five yards wide of the mark and make surging, bombing runs into the box ad nauseam, and dropping in the odd Christian Panucci special as well. So what role does he fill this year?

Oh, right...Zemanlandia.

Given that the whole "bombing into the box" thing became something of a superpower for him, it might not be so outrageous to say that he might end us as Roma's best midfielder this year.

Go ahead and laugh. Until he scores twelve.

Simone Perrotta: [Weeps gently.]

Miralem Pjanic: The deadline day move last year was flabbergasting. Throughout the year, it became even more flabbergasting. That little money for this much talent and production? Lyon sold on the cheap, and this was always going to be Roma's deal of the century. It's turned out to be nothing short of, because he's refined, he's talented, he's intelligent and he's got an eye for the pitch which belies his age. He would've fit in just fine at Barcelona. He'd be an excellent replacement for Modric at Tottenham. The fact that he's Roma's is a stroke of luck. He and Daniele are locked in on the lineup card so long as their respective contracts are locked in the house safe. He and Francesco will be conducting this circus from just beyond the box, and it's going to be glorious.

Panagiotis Tachtsidis: There's something about him I really like. Not only because I can spell his name without Google and that feels like a life accomplishment, but a big, fluid central midfielder with a nasty stream ticks all the right boxes for everything, ever. He's got that aura, which counts for nothing, but allows people on the internets to unnecessarily exaggerate his ability and potential, leading to those flashes of potential to lead people to agree with said exaggeration. (Isn't the internets being Gospel wonderful?) It's also how there's a small island off the coast of Africa filled with The Next Patrick Vieira, numbers 1-38,912.

Watching him in small samples, it's clear he has an immense amount of talent. It's even more clear he's immensely raw. It's also clear he and Florenzi are likely the future of that third midfield spot, should it remain a trio for some time. Until then, a waiting game, but Tachycardia seems most likely to make an impact, out of all the young'uns.

Rodrigo Taddei: What the hell are you? Last season's best fullback has been supplanted by actual fullbacks. Now he's a utility man extraodinaire, with one defining characteristic: no matter where he starts - on the bench, on the pitch, or with his shorts tucked into his bikini briefs - every coach plays him. Every single one. Rodrigo is going to find a way into that lineup. Somehow. He's like that one peskily determined male reproductive seed - he just finds a way in. (Betcha never thought Taddei would net that analogy, huh.)

This is going to be a headache for Zeman.

Needs: Less is more? Someone could be shipped out by August 31; barring injuries, someone will need to be shipped out by January 31.

Outlook: It's excellent, really. They've got quality, depth and quality in depth. The defense might prove to be an absolute shambles directly as a result of systemic structure, but the temporary passing of the baton to get it down the other end - enjoy many, many athletics references this year - means it's in excellent hands. Temporarily, of course.