20th March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
Obtaining playing time was never going to be a straightforward task for Clement Grenier when he arrived at AS Roma on loan in January from Lyon. With the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and Leandro Paredes ahead of him in the pecking order for a spot within the Giallorossi's ultra competitive midfield, Grenier knew he'd have to be patient and wait for his opportunity.
Having waited over two months, last Sunday night, the 26-year-old midfielder was finally handed his Serie A starting debut, and he unquestionably made the most of his chance. While the man whose only other minutes came in a two minute cameo vs Fiorentina showed signs of tiredness in the second half, which led to his early substitution on 64 minutes, during his time afield, he was quite possibly Roma's most influential player.
Deployed on Roma's right hand side of central midfield to begin with, the Frenchman used all of his intelligence and technical gifts to produce an incisive, imaginative showing. To start with, his brilliant understanding of space, in combination with his constant blindside checks that he used to scan his surroundings, enabled him to persistently find vacant space in which to operate. By moving laterally, vertically and diagonally, Palermo found him a real handful to nullify due to his nifty variations.
Interestingly, despite not playing with Nainggolan a huge amount, the pair showed a strong understanding, subtly switching positions when need be to unsettle their opposition. In addition, when one pushed forward into attacking areas, one would crucially stay deeper and hold their position, with this well synchronised movement giving the side equal measures of attacking menace and essential balance.
Once in possession, Grenier utilised his exquisite range of passing to connect, construct and animate Roma's possession phases. Whether spraying raking cross field diagonals, combining intricately via one and two touch passes or playing defence splitting through balls, his distribution qualities and electric vision dazzled throughout. The fact he engineered a game high four goalscoring opportunities and supplied a sublime, first time lofted ball for Stephan El Shaarawy's opener served as a testament to his expertise here.
Comfortable receiving under pressure, this aspect of his game made certain the Rosanero's harrying efforts were deemed largely useless against him. Instead, Grenier flourished under duress, evidencing his tremendous composure by provoking his opponents to press him by holding onto the ball to draw in an opponent before then releasing it as they approached. In doing so, this successfully created space behind the presser for his teammates to exploit, which notably manipulated the home side's defensive structure.
It must be said that Grenier did make the odd mistake by trying to play some overly expansive passes, but his overall offensive contribution was enormous in terms of chance creation and orchestrating his team's most promising attacking forays.
Defensively, he applied himself wholeheartedly too, getting through his work with intensity and bite. His energetic marking and pressing of Alessandro Gazzi or Ivaylo Chochev, depending if he'd switched with Nainggolan, ensured the Sicilian outfit struggled to build out from the back. Moreover, the way he adhered so astutely to Luciano Spalletti's man oriented midfield marking scheme would've impressed his manager to no end.
The languid midfielder's four victorious aerial duels and five successful defensive actions accentuated his industry whenever Palermo had the ball.
For Grenier, who's had some horrific battles with injury in his career, which even cost him a spot in France's 2014 World Cup squad, and endured a disappointing first half of the campaign with Lyon, it was fantastic to see him exhibiting his diverse skillset.
At Lyon, where he was only granted a meagre six substitute appearances, Grenier felt unfairly treated and hardly given a chance to prove his worth, feeling he was left with no choice but to leave. But having left the club he's been with for 15 years, that he rose through the academy with, he's desperate to make the most of this next chapter of his career.
"I want to prove that Lyon were wrong to let me go and that Roma are right to back me. I'm disappointed that my time at Lyon ended on a sour note - with little playing time - but it remains a big chapter in my career as a whole."
The fact he's so versatile offers an additional reason as to why he'll be a valuable asset to Spalletti's squad, and one that'll vitally give him plenty of tactical flexibility. "I've already had the chance to chat to the coach about my playing style and where I'm best suited," he told Roma's official website.
"I'm versatile, as I've played everywhere in the middle of the park. I want to show what I can do in this team, be it in front of the defence, in midfield or behind the strikers. That's up to the coach to decide."
Although it's unclear when the set piece specialist will be given his next run out for the Giallorossi, if he can continue to seize his chances, just like he did vs Palermo, then there's no reason to suggest he can't be a success in the Eternal City.
While it won't be easy for him to break into Roma's talented midfield, there's no doubting he's got all the tools to do precisely that.
Clement Grenier Breaking into the AS Roma Midfield
20th March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.