The increasing prattle surrounding Kevin Strootman seems to suggest that this smoke may indeed be accompanied by some fire.
In other words, the transfer of Kevin Strootman looks as if it might actually materialise but why does Louis van Gaal feel the need to bring in this particular player?
The Roma midfielder has made 25 appearances for Roma since joining in July 2013, scoring five goals. Under Rudi Garcia, Strootman has played predominately in a 4-3-3 system, similar to the one utilised at times by Louis van Gaal this term, alongside Daniele De Rossi and Miralem Pranic.
Roma had one of the finest defensive records in Europe last season, and Strootman’s qualities as a tough-tackling, aggressive midfielder appears to echo the brawn and tenacity of a team that finished in 2nd place having only conceded 25 goals in 38 matches.
Kevin Strootman’s strengths lie principally in his natural physical stature; he is around 6’1” tall and possesses a large amount of upper body strength, which results in the Dutchman being able to bully opponents off the ball and act as a vigorous midfield enforcer.
Having played many times alongside Mark Van Bommel, the 24-year-old has picked up a few things; most noticeably, an extremely effective tackling ability – this has invariably resulted in Strootman being liable to picking up yellow cards, he receives a caution once in every five games on average – despite that, the tackles he makes aren’t always pretty, but are most certainly vital.
If you’ve watched Strootman play for Roma before, you’d notice that he’s more than willing to be that player who ‘takes one for the team’ by chopping down an opposition player as a break is about to occur, subsequently picking up a yellow card – this is a trait somewhat under-appreciated and misunderstood in terms of how difficult a skill it is to carry out – this is something Wayne Rooney discovered against West Ham.
The tenacity and grit that comes with Kevin Strootman’s playing style has led the midfielder being dubbed as the ‘Dutch Roy Keane’ – although I haven’t seen any news of him rocking up at Tom Cleverley’s house yet.
Manchester United has become a side guilty of allowing the opposition back into matches that ought to have been killed off, resulting in nervy endings and David De Gea heroics. This is down to an inability to take the sting out of games, halting opposition momentum. The bullish nature of Strootman, and his ability to make professional fouls, would ensure Louis van Gaal’s side is able to see out matches in a more comfortable manner, as opposed to an ugly capitulation that Roma suffered at home to Bayern Munich, a performance that was crying out for the likes of Kevin Strootman.
Although the Manchester United midfield is blessed with a good amount of technical ability, a fair few of them can be overwhelmed by the immense physicality that the Premier League entails. It’s become clear that some midfielders, namely Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Daley Blind, and most certainly Fletcher become subdued in games away from Old Trafford.
The lack of tenacity and impetus to grab the opposition by the jugular has been the main kryptonite for Manchester United’s paltry 22% win rate away from home under Louis van Gaal. The inclusion of Strootman could be the antidote for Manchester United’s troubles away Old Trafford this season; his vision, composure, as well as his ability to leave his mark on opponents would provide the Manchester United midfield with a greater foothold in the middle of the park, allowing them to control games like they do at the Theatre of Dreams.
However, Strootman is far from just a ‘tough guy’ in midfield. The Dutchman has the ability to bring the ball forward and act as a real linchpin for attacks, orchestrating moves quickly and efficiently once the ball has been turned over. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that he is a ‘box to box’ midfielder, as his game centres chiefly around his positional play and strength to compensate for his lack of speed, but he does surge forward from time to time when the opposition team is at their most vulnerable.
The versatility encouraged by Louis van Gaal has turned Manchester United into a unpredictable and precarious force – the interest in Kevin Strootman has been present long before Louis van Gaal came to the helm, but the current interest makes sense due to the Dutchman’s’ ability to function in a 4-4-2 diamond, a 4-3-3, and even a 3-5-2.
The best way to use Strootman in a 4-4-2 diamond would be using him on the right hand side at the expense of Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini, giving Angel Di Maria increased license to roam forward and more room for Michael Carrick to manouver the ball.
Using Strootman in a 3-5-2 system would be equally beneficial – slotting in alongside Michael Carrick would undoubtedly provide the midfield with more backbone and control.
The inclusion of Kevin Strootman would pretty much eliminate any minute chance of Darren Fletcher making the team and allow Louis van Gaal to use Daley Blind as a LWB if he so wished. The midfield hasn’t necessarily received the level of lambasting that is usually thrown its way in the past couple of years since Louis van Gaal’s arrival, but including Kevin Strootman in the Manchester United team provides the manager with a controlled aggressor in the middle of the park, additionally acting as good incentive to keep current midfielders on their toes.