La Repubblica (Matteo Pinci) If you had given him a pen and paper before the game, he might not have been able to write a better story: running towards the Roma supporters, having scored the decisive goal in his first derby since his comeback. And what better occasion than a derby, with a place in the Champions League up for grabs, to go back to being the real Kevin Strootman.
Roma needed him to force open a tight derby and to underline that they cannot be stopped at the Olimpico: 8 wins from 8 now. This game is starting to become a problem for Lazio, now without a win in the derby for 1288 days. But most of all, the 2-0 win for the Giallorossi gave Spalletti the chance to see 2 key players that he was on the verge of losing start to perform again. The first was Nainggolan, who will now be talked about more for his long-range shot that beat Marchetti to seal the game and his skill to bamboozle Immobile and Lulic than for his off-field activities (at least for a while). The second, and the cause for real joy, was Strootman. He arrived in 2013 soon after another derby, the Coppa Italia final, and Lazio have failed to win in the derby since, losing 5 out of 7 and turning the scene of triumph into a taboo.
Their latest nightmare was inspired by a man who has had his fair share of nightmares. After his 3 knee operations, the fear he had of giving up after finding out he needed to undergo yet another operation when it seemed like he was close to returning, Strootman needed a moment like that to put it all behind him once and for all. He was personally given such a moment by Wallace, whose middle name happens to be Fortuna – it’s almost as if fate wanted to make it clear to Kevin that things really have changed now. Wallace inexplicably tried to dribble the ball out from the edge of his own penalty area, and in doing so he joined that exclusive club of players, including Paolo Negro and Marco Lanna, to become a hero in the eyes of their opponents.
Strootman won the ball off him in the same tough way he would have done in the days before he first did his cruciate nearly 3 years ago. Then he used a gentler touch to clip the ball over Marchetti. It was the moment that opened up the derby and the Dutchman struggled to contain his joy after enduring so much pain. He gave in to temptation when, on his way back to the Roma half, he got involved in a spat between Cataldi and Rudiger by squirting some water at the Laziale from a bottle he was drinking from. It was the spark that caused Cataldi to react (grabbing him by the scruff of the neck), that caused the scuffle between the two sides, and that caused Cataldi to be sent off.
“I don’t really remember what happened,” Strootman said afterwards, though his smile said otherwise. It was the smile of someone who had won a match that, a few minutes in, Lazio thought they would dominate, but ended up losing badly. Inzaghi’s inexperience was telling: he was brave at the start in choosing 3 forwards and sacrificing De Vrij, but he was naive not to understand that Spalletti playing cat and mouse. Roma took the 3 points from the derby and won their first game of a scudetto mini-cycle, which sees them face Milan in 7 days’ time and then Juventus the following Saturday. “We’ve beaten the team in 3rd, now we’re facing 2nd and then 1st, it’s like a World Cup,” De Rossi smiled. Maybe he was thinking back to the one he won 10 years ago.