Antonio Conte wanted him at Chelsea, but Radja Nainggolan stayed with Roma to establish himself as one of the most interesting midfielders on the international scene. And not only. In the new 3-4-2-1 formation enacted by Luciano Spalletti, he is managing to emerge as a true, updated variation of what happened during the first Roman experience of the CT from Certaldo. If the adaptation of Simone Perrotta as halfback in a 4-2-3-1 formation was ingenious then, now the Belgian’s contribution behind the striker, Edin Dzeko, is fundamental combined with either Mohamed Salah, Diego Perotti or Stephan El Shaarawy. The symbol of the evolution of the midfielder’s role in modern football.

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Since Spalletti’s return to Roma, Nainggolan has evolved from a left inside midfielder to a player who moves along the halfback line, spreading out over the entire pitch. This is another reason that, playing in only 34 matches of the season, including all of the competitions, he has scored 10 goals (7 and an assist in championship matches), a career record.

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Nainggolan’s main characteristic is his well-roundedness. Ball recovery, pure defensive phase and pressing are associated with the scoring skills of an authentic halfback. His coverage of the pitch takes place primarily for the central areas and occupies a strategically decisive chunk of the pitch.

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In the 10 goals of the season, 5 were scored on a shot from outside the area or a power conclusion built on an orchestrated play or a blocked shot. This is a traditional solution for a midfielder who cuts between the lines and tries to finalise the team effort. But now, Nainggolan knows how to do much more.

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The goal scored against Udine is something new in the repertoire of a player who continues to improve and expand his options. Strootman connected with him on a long pass, he cut from left to right and shot from the opposite side of the goal like a true attacker. The Belgian’s repertoire is expanding significantly. And the goal scored against Crotone is yet another example.

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The ball intercepted and the assist provided (but not exploited) by Dzeko against Fiorentina explain what convinced Spalletti to line Nainggolan up in that position. Because he knows how to mark, press and recover the ball during the phase when the opposing team is setting up their play. And he knows how to handle the ball immediately like a true forward. Nainggolan’s future is as a midfielder.

Mattia Fontana
Mattia Fontana, Eurosport Italia editor.