Strootman will rekindle Cataldi feud as Roma travel to Benevento
When Kevin Strootman lines up against struggling Benevento on Wednesday, he'll come face to face with an old enemy from one of his most memorable moments in Giallorosso, a classic piece of Rome derby chicanery that made him a devil in the eyes of Laziali and cemented his position as a Roma fan favourite. He'll do so as the driving force of a team looking to quickly build on the kickstart a limp Hellas Verona allowed them at the weekend, and former Lazio man Danilo Cataldi will be doing his best to stop him.
Just over an hour into a tense, tight Derby della Capitale back in December, Strootman dispossessed dawdling Lazio defender Wallace on the edge of the Lazio area before dinking the opening goal over Federico Marchetti, breaking Lazio's resistance and sending Romanisti into raptures. As supporters celebrated and the players trotted back along the touchline for the restart, sneaky Strootman chucked water over substitute Cataldi, and the furious midfielder reacted, pulling Strootman back by his shirt. The Dutchman quickly fell to the ground in a somewhat theatrical manner, and in the resulting bedlam referee Luca Banti sent Cataldi off. A malicious moment to truly savour for the Giallorosso community.
"The goal I scored against Lazio that day was the best moment of my time at Roma up to now," Strootman said on Monday, neatly forgetting to mention the following touchline fracas. "It was my first goal at home after coming back from injury, and to see the eyes of the supporters was incredible."
No wonder he looks back on that moment so fondly. Not only did he open the scoring in a Rome derby, he then got away scot free with his terribly unsportsmanlike behaviour. Roma managed to get the yellow card Strootman was subsequently awarded for simulation rescinded on a technicality -- meaning that he was available for matches with AC Milan and Juventus -- while Cataldi's red card stood.
Strootman further infuriated Laziali by taking an outrageous dive to win a penalty in first-half stoppage time that allowed Daniele De Rossi to level the scores in April's return derby, but Lazio stomped to a 3-1 win that day and by that time 23-year-old Cataldi, who has been at Lazio since he was 12, had been loaned out to Genoa. Now also at Benevento on loan, this will be his last year as a Lazio player, with the southerners obliged to make his latest move permament. Being sprayed with water remains one of the most memorable moments of his 11-year Lazio career.
Strootman will line up against Cataldi, who set up Benevento's first ever (and so far only) Serie A goal at Sampdoria on the opening day of the season, as the leading light of a rotated first 11 that, after seeing off Verona, is aiming to rattle through the minnows before travelling to AC Milan at the start of October. The Dutch international will take to the field alongside Lorenzo Pellegrini, impressive on his full Roma debut on Saturday, and new signing Maxime Gonalons, who will make his first appearance for Eusebio Di Francesco's side in place of De Rossi, holding the fort in front of the back four.
Meanwhile Alessandro Florenzi will miss out at right-back despite looking the real deal on his return against Verona, Juan Jesus will replace Federico Fazio alongside Kostas Manolas, and it looks like Diego Perotti and Gregoire Defrel will return to Edin Dzeko's side in Di Francesco's attacking trident. Neither winger has excelled alongside the Bosnian up to now, and after Stephan El Shaarawy and Cengiz Under's more dynamic performances on Saturday it will be up to them to provide the support Dzeko claimed was lacking after last week's goalless draw with Atletico Madrid. Given that Defrel was often so far away from his strike partner because he had to drop back to support Bruno Peres, the Brazilian's return at right-back is a worry.
Benevento are the only Serie A team yet to get a point on the board, but apart from the six-goal slaughtering they suffered at the hands of Napoli on Sunday, their matches have been evenly contested. Their last match at the Stadio Ciro Vigorito, a keenly fought 1-0 defeat to Torino, was only surrendered to an Iago Falque strike deep in stoppage time, while previous defeats at Sampdoria and at home to Bologna followed a similar pattern -- dogged performance, wrong result.
Roma really need six points from Wednesday and Saturday's clash with Udinese to cement the confidence boost the spanking of Verona gave a team that has struggled to fully express its undeniable talent, and Strootman is one in charge of making it happen.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley