Examining Michael Bradley’s move to Roma; what it means

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The news came as little surprise Sunday; Michael Bradley, easily the top man among the current U.S. central midfield mix, completed his $4.5 million transfer to Roma. Here’s what the move means:

A great place to be

Bradley now finds himself in a great spot. Roma isn’t one of the big Italian hoagies, but it’s not far. Call it a good sized Italian beef sandwich. The last five years Roma has finished 7th, 6th, 2nd, 6th and 2nd. That’s damn solid Serie A work.

Roma performs at the Stadio Olimpico, Italy’s second largest venue with a capacity of 72,000, second Italian fiddle only the fabled San Siro. So it’s an ambitious club, not blessed with the history or resources of AC Milan, Juventus, etc., but hardly miles behind.

In the sweet spot, career-wise

Having signed a four-year deal, the 24-year-old is in a great spot, career-wise. He’ll be 27 going into the next important transfer window in 2015 (with a year left on his deal, a.k.a. the sell-off zone). If the U.S. midfielder keeps developing and does his part to assist the Giallorossi cause (no reason to believe he won’t), Bradley’s next move would be to a true European heavyweight. Consider that Clint Dempsey got himself into a similar position – but at age 29. Two years younger would look even more attractive.

Impact on the U.S. national team scene

Bradley excelled in 2011-12 Serie A matters at smaller Chievo, and his body of work with the U.S. national team is Exhibit A of his steady improvement. A year ago Bradley was a solid international caliber midfielder and a steady contributor to the U.S. program (and finally, mercifully, shutting up the last holdouts among the know-nothing nepotism set, who claimed his U.S. spot was all about his father being the coach).

In the year since, Bradley has kicked it all up a notch. A big notch. He’s an essential wheel in the U.S. midfield machine, versatile enough to hold any role, capable in some, a difference-maker and game-breaker in others. He’s the team’s best passer, a steady scorer out of midfield, a highly professional leader and probably the most important U.S. man this side of Tim Howard and perhaps Clint Dempsey.

Point is, his move to Roma will only enhance the product in a U.S. shirt. Being surrounded by better players at Roma should allow Bradley to add further polish and a layer of steely sophistication that he might not have reached in Verona. Plus, Roma may not be AC or Inter in terms of European accomplishment, but it’s no stranger to Champions League play. He’s got a chance to learn on (and potentially shine on) a bigger European element – and that’s yet another level of development now within reach.

I hope to have a little more later today on Bradley’s transfer price, and what it means to another U.S. international who would like to be on the move. 

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.