Does Michael Bradley at Sunderland make much sense?

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The thought of Michael Bradley at Sunderland has me crinkling up my nose and squinting, as if I’ve just caught a feint whiff of something unpleasant, but not quite identifiable.

Bradley is doing splendidly at Roma, a team that finished sixth in a top-level league (Serie A) last year.

I know the TV situation for the rest of us, where Bradley is concerned, would improve rather dramatically. And he would play in behind another important U.S. man, Jozy Altidore. Otherwise, I cannot really see where what makes this a good career move.

For one, Sunderland appears to be a potentially unstable situation, a bottom- to mid-level team now under the guidance of a highly emotional and potentially volatile figure (Italian Paolo Di Canio) that we just do not know that much about. (Well, other than that he is a highly emotional and potentially volatile figure.)

Will his charges under his tutelage ultimately prosper and become better players, still? Will things around the Stadium of Light evolve or devolve? Will Bradley and his family find England’s industrial northeast to their liking, always a relevant factor in these moves, as player off-field happiness helps dictate his chances of on-field success?

Those are the known unknowns; what of the unknown unknowns?

(MORE: Roma reportedly reject $10 million Sunderland offer for Bradley)

Ahead of a World Cup year, nothing is more important than playing time. We know Bradley is a respected figure in Rome, central to manager Rudi Garcia’s plan. He’s in a good place – in more ways than one.

The man’s soccer brain has just grown and grown. If he’s not one of the most intelligent soccer men to ever pull on a U.S. shirt, he’s surely right up there. The payoff for Bradley’s movement in midfield areas, his tactical awareness, his instincts and keen sense of what is happening around him is all that highly intelligent and useful work with the ball around Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.

He’s a real master at keeping the ball when the situation calls for it, and then doing something constructive with when the situation allows.

But the further payoff is in adding a counterweight to Jermaine Jones’ impulsive ways through the central third. Bradley is almost always there, even when it’s Jones who should be.

So much of that tactical awareness is a product of his recent years in Italy.

Bradley’s weaponized soccer brain was born, literally and figuratively, because he’s the son of a soccer coach, and a darn good one, in Bob Bradley. It was nurtured by spending boyhood years around the game, cultivated further in the technical and geometrically inclined Dutch game, further steeled in Germany. But the rounding off, the Master’s degree, if you will, came in Italy.

Italy is a good place for Bradley, who quickly learned the language so he could fully immerse himself in the broader culture of the game. Roma is a good address.

Why bother a good thing?

 

Reports: Barcelona holding talks with Verratti’s agent

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Barcelona has their eyes set on a new Andres Iniesta.

Sure, projecting anyone to meet Ballon d’Or finalist standards is silly, but news that Barca has had multiple meetings with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti does inspire comparison hunting.

[ MORE: Klopp explains Lovren extension ]

An influential and creative central midfielder, the 24-year-old Verratti is 8.5 years younger than Iniesta and wowed Barca in the first leg of PSG’s ill-fated UEFA Champions League tie with the Catalans.

Mundo Deportivo, amongst others, reports that Verratti feels life at PSG has gotten stale and that Barca is one of the few clubs that represents a significant jump up in class. He’s also been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past few transfer windows.

Verratti has a contract through 2020-21, so any purchase will not be cheap considering PSG’s desire to continue growing its status as a UCL contender. The Italian is 21 times capped by the Azzurri.

Klopp talks new Lovren deal, Top Four worries, Watford

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Liverpool announced a new contract for Dejan Lovren on Friday, complete with the requisite “I love my club” comments from the defender.

Then Jurgen Klopp got his hands on a microphone.

The outspoken manager explained that re-signing Lovren to a new “long-term” deal ensures that the Croatian spends the best years of his career with the Reds.

[ MORE: Top PL Storylines ]

He also spoke plainly about Lovren’s perceived struggles and successes since arriving at Anfield from Southampton in 2014.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“If Dejan played for another club you would want to sign him – and pay a lot of money. He is 27, the best time is still to come.”

“If you’d asked fans after the Dortmund game they would said give him a 20-year contract. After the Palace game fans would have said ‘can we find another team who will have him?’ Truth is somewhere in between.”

Turning to Monday’s trip to Watford, Klopp isn’t concerned about the chance that his Reds will open the day outside the Top Four if Man City and Manchester United both win at the weekend.

He also says the Reds could have Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge at Vicarge Road, though Jordan Henderson remains out.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Bournemouth

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  • Sunderland won 2-1 on Nov. 5
  • Fourth meeting since 1990
  • Sunderland leads all-time 5W-3D-1L

Sunderland looks to keep its faint hopes of Premier League safety alive by managing a season sweep of Bournemouth when the two sides meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Black Cats are a mess, having lost to Tees-Wear Derby rivals Middlesbrough on Wednesday and living 12 points back of 17th place Swansea City.

Bournemouth battered Middlesbrough 4-0 last weekend to move seven points clear of the drop zone, and can finish the day in the top half with a win up north.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss David Moyes on calls for him to quit“I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose. There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”

Bournemouth captain Simon Francis on Sunderland’s woes“It just show how things can happen when clubs are not run properly. If we do lose Sunderland from the Premier League it will be a real shame. They are an enormous club and playing at grounds like theirs is the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”

 

Prediction

The Black Cats haven’t quit, but manage two fewer points than they need, all but heading for the Championship after a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.