It is strange to think that this is Kevin Strootman’s first season as a starter since 2013/2014. Two years ago, the Dutchman was a very different player. His two cruciate ligament knee injuries took away his explosiveness and the physical strength of his first year, leaving his less obvious characteristics on the surface, previously hidden under his innate aggressiveness.

Being less dominant in one-on-one challenges with the opponent (he wins 2.59 tackles every 90 minutes, which is a relatively high number if it weren’t only 38% of his attempts), Strootman, much like those who lose one of their senses, is developing the rest of his huge technical repertoire.

The Dutchman is becoming even more skilled in anticipating his opponents’ passing lines. This allows him to step away from man marking in time to intercept the ball, reducing high-speed challenges to a minimum and allowing Roma to make the offensive transition.

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Anticipation of the passing lines, a quality that is missing both from De Rossi, for athletic dynamism, and from Nainggolan, for tactical intelligence, is a fundamental weapon for Rome even from a few metres farther back. In fact, a midfielder like Strootman who knows how to predict the direction the play will take, allows the defence to move up on the opponents with the guarantee that they are protected against any insertions by their adversaries.

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But above all, too often we forget that Strootman realizes not only his opponents’ movements ahead of time, but also those of his teammates, breaking the opposing team’s lines vertically in order to move behind their defence, just as Spalletti wants. This season the Dutchman is making 2.07 key passes every 90 minutes, statistics that are higher than Perotti’s.

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The Strootman that came back this year, after two years of purgatory, is a less physical player, but he is more complete and functional for Spalletti’s strategy, more than any of the other midfielders on the roster.

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