It certainly won’t have been missed at Trigoria, given the love and passion for numbers, statistics and algorithms – in the words of Walter Sabatini – that has come about in the last year or so, that some statistics really do point towards progression. Like those, for instance, of Kevin Strootman, who was part of the Holland team that beat Belarus on Friday. Strootman has hardly stopped ever since he started playing again, either for Roma (where he has played 619 minutes in the league – only Szczesny and Bruno Peres have played more, with 630) or for Holland. But with one distinction. Compared to the period before all his injuries, Kevin is a different player now. Maybe less physical, but definitely more complete. In short, a Strootman 2.0. A different type of player compared to before, but nevertheless still an enormously effective and useful one.
There’s a study by Wyscout that demonstrates this. Today, Strootman wins an average of 2.59 tackles a game, which in and of itself isn’t a bad statistic, but compare that with the fact that he only wins 38% of the tackles he makes. The current Strootman, in short, is less effective in individual challenges, in duels and in one-on-ones, which was always considered one of his real strengths; however, he’s also now much better in covering passing lines, both as an aid to the defence and in knowing how to play in his position. It’s no accident that he’s made an average of 2.43 interceptions per game (from a total of 7 games) at the start of this season, whereas in the 24 games prior to his first injury (up until 10th March, 2014) the average was 1.04. Essentially, now he’s intercepting the ball one and a half times more than he was before. That is down to his transformation as a player. It’s also down to the tactical improvement which he has made under Spalletti, who often asks him to cover the space left by the full backs when they press higher up the pitch.
All of that, as a result, makes one think of a Strootman who is more defensive than attacking, at least in terms of his positioning. It’s true that the start to the season has seen him try to play more long balls than before (5 attempted on average compared to 3.92 before, 4 successful per game compared to 2.96). But conversely, the other side of the Dutchman’s transformation as a player lies here as well. In being more complete than he was before, now Kevin is able to make an average of 2.07 key passes per game. To put that into context, someone like Perotti makes around 1.91. That means that Strootman is very important in the transitional phase as well. In short, his ability to intercept the ball also allows him to set up counter-attacks, breaks forward, and to get the ball to the forwards. And when Kevin intercepts the ball and the team is pressing hard, it can really do some damage.
If Roma want to enjoy having this Strootman in their team, sooner or later they’ll need to offer him a new contract (his current deal expires in 2018). It is a question that will need to be addressed straight after Nainggolan and Manolas, and recently those talks have suddenly slowed right down (as Sabatini underlined during his farewell press conference on Friday). Nainggolan’s agent may have a meeting next week with Massara and Gandini, Manolas’ agent received another offer last week: around €2.5m (including bonuses), but the Greek doesn’t want to go below €3m. There will be a lot of fighting, talking and battling to come. Just like there is on the pitch, just like Strootman. Less physical, but more complete.
This article is a translation – the original was written by Andrea Pugliese for La Gazzetta dello Sport.