Kevin Strootman’s progression from Sparta Rotterdam to PSV via Utrecht was quite smooth and rapid. The player’s injury setbacks over the last three years have halted the development of one of the most talented and well-rounded players to come out of Dutch football. Strootman has put those setbacks behind him as he is now thriving at club level in Italy.

Kevin Strootman’s stint at Roma has been ravaged by injury as one of Europe’s most coveted midfielders suffered many setbacks when club and country needed him most. He returned from injury at the back end of last season and was immediately called up to the Dutch National Team but his performances this season for Roma have been exemplary. Luciano Spaletti gained notoriety in his first spell at Roma for creating a fluid and lethal front three but his rigid back three with the protection of Daniele De Rossi and Strootman could see the capital club make a deep run in the Europa League and take Juventus to the wire for the Serie A title.

Strootman has found a place in Roma’s well-balanced 3-4-2-1 as Spaletti has placed De Rossi as a safety blanket in front of the back three and given Strootman more freedom. In his performances for the Dutch National team under Danny Blind, he has played as a sole defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2/5-3-2 lacking any tactical structure. Blind has played Riechedly Bazoer and Jordy Clasie in the position during his tenure and all of them have seemed comfortable against the lesser teams where the Dutch hold more possession but have struggled against the bigger teams. They have seemed out manned and outgunned as both are used to playing with more support while Clasie doesn’t play that role at Southampton and Bazoer is yet to find out where he fits in at Wolfsburg.

Strootman also seemed shackled by the defensive responsibility and with teams normally playing with one attacking midfielder and two wingers behind the striker, it left the former PSV midfielder isolated during counters and the defense became vulnerable. It also posed a problem in playing out of the back as the spacing between him and the other two midfielders in the midfield three was often too large and he was forced to play backward or sideways passes. Spaletti has remedied all of that in his system as Strootman’s one-touch passing style in the deeper roles allows Roma to play out of pressure while Strootman will push higher next to Radja Nainggolan in a 3-1-4-2 when Roma are attacking.

Strootman has become Roma’s hub of creativity as most of the attacks are played through him and he is also free to drift into the inside left position to link things from there. His liberation was exemplified against Genoa when at one moment in the first half, he controlled a chipped pass well in the inside left channel of the final third to spin past his marker and ping an accurate switch ball to the right. A few minutes later he received the ball on the inside left again to hit an accurate cross to Dzeko in the six-yard box as the current Serie A top goalscorer had his shot saved by the Genoa keeper from point blank range. He then played an important part in the counter that led to Armando Izzo’s own goal a few minutes later. He finished that match with 3 chances created, 5 tackles and 10 ball recoveries.

Strootman turned 27-years-old last week as he is beginning to play his best football and will hopefully be noticed for his brilliant performances rather than the shirt tugging incident that occurred in the Rome Derby against Lazio. Rudi Garcia dubbing him the ‘washing machine’ seemed to give the belief that he is solely a defensive player too much credence as his elegance on the ball is an integral facet in Roma’s style of play. His ability to link things together in the final third is unbelievable as well as some of the chances that he is laying on for teammates as his knack of playing brilliant final passes is breathtaking. Teams that have played with similar formations to Roma like Genoa (3-4-3) and Fiorentina (3-4-2-1) have seen themselves outplayed by De Rossi and Strootman.

Borja Valero, Milan Badelj and Matias Vecino who are one of Serie A’s better midfield units were outworked and dominated by De Rossi, Strootman and Nainggolan. In a match where De Rossi got two assists, Strootman created three chances and got one assist and Nainggolan scored a goal in a comfortable 4-0 victory, it was obvious which team had the better midfield. The craft that went into the third goal proved that Strootman had the wit of many attacking midfielders around Europe after him and Nainggolan broke through after a brilliant passage of play on the counter before Strootman elegantly chipped the ball for an onrushing Nainggolan to score. Many other midfielders would have tried to side foot a pass on the grass which would have been cleared by the recovering defenders but the delicate chip showed the initiative used by Strootman in the final third that makes him unique.

Strootman still goes about his defensive responsibility with vigor while Nainggolan dropping deeper also means that the Dutchman and his midfield partner De Rossi are never isolated. Roma has also unearthed a reliable back three in Kostas Manolas, Federico Fazio and Antonio Rudiger who have been incredible defensively and also in building up attacks from the back. Arsenal loanee Wojciech Szczesny has also been putting in some inspired performances with a brilliant repertoire of saves in the second half against Genoa and also against Crotone in Roma’s last match. Roma has ten clean sheets in their last 14 and is on a run of three straight clean sheets while they won eleven of their last 14 games in all competitions.

Against Crotone, Strootman hit three perfectly weighted chipped balls into the box for teammates in the first 15 minutes. One of them was to Mohamed Salah who was fouled for a penalty which Edin Dzeko missed. He also drifted out to the left flank to dribble past Crotone players on several occasions to set up incisive passing sequences as at the end of the first half, he beat his man on the touchline to play in Nainggolan who drove into the box and traded passes with Dzeko to put Roma ahead. The pass that will be remembered is Leandro Paredes’ pass to Mohamed Salah for the second goal but Strootman’s presence helped the Argentinean through a rough first half. Strootman finished the game with an 86% pass succession rate, 5 tackles, 3 interceptions and 9 ball recoveries.

Strootman suffered a cruciate ligament injury in his first season at Roma and has had to have two operations on his knees which stole almost three pivotal seasons of his career but the player is clearly enjoying his football at the moment. Returning at the back end of last season and having a summer to work his way back to full fitness has clearly been beneficial for the player who has only missed one game with an injury this season. He has worked his way into Spaletti’s plans as the experienced Italian manager said that the player could play for bigger clubs in Europe while he also said that he is now a pivotal part of the squad’s backbone.

“I think Strootman could play for a team like Barcelona or Bayern Munich,” Spalletti told the UEFA website late last year.”Throw him in there and he would be able to compete. He could play in any one of those teams, which says it all. Strootman is an exceptional player and a fantastic man in all respects. You just need to see the desire and emotion he puts into everyday training, not only in matches.He really is a team player who helps you set the rhythm and is always ready come Sunday. If you are ready to play, you win; otherwise, you do not know what the result will be.”

“This backbone is being born, by Fazio to Strootman to Dzeko you go for that thorn that becomes crucial. The team has grown, this is the most important benefit,” said Spaletti to Eurosport on Thursday after the 4-0 away victory against Villareal.

Strootman makes 3 tackles and 2 interceptions per game while the Dutchman has three goals and three assists this season with 1 key pass per game according to WhoScored. He completes 63 passes per game at a success rate of 87% with 3 accurate long balls per game. He has created 33 chances this season as only Nainggolan has more in the Roma midfield as only Perotti, De Rossi and Salah have more assists than him this season. The most important number to Strootman is probably the 29 games he has played for them this season as one can only hope that he continues this season injury free.

Strootman should not be shoehorned into a defensive role in a faulty system for the Dutch National Team as a player with his ability and nous from deep and in the final third is greatly needed. His exploits for Roma are certainly worth watching as he should play with a holding midfielder at International level so he can spread his influence from box-to-box. Spaletti and Blind have disagreed over the midfielder’s physical exertions with the National Team but they have to find common ground over his role within a team. There has been nothing more heartwarming than seeing a player who has been unlucky with injuries over the last three years enjoy himself for an extended period of time on the pitch.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)