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Strootman loving life at Roma, aims to keep paying club back

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Kevin Strootman is in love with Roma.

The club, the city, the fans, name it: The relentless 27-year-old has renewed his commitment to AS Roma with a new contract, and understands how players like Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi devote their entire careers to i Lupi.

“It’s Rome,” Strootman exclaims, speaking ahead of the club’s second Stateside match of the International Champions Cup.

“You’re not going to leave easy. This is Rome. We all have the ambition to win something here, and to celebrate with the fans. Totti told us when he won the scudetto in 2001, there were parties for three months. If you win something here, it’s going to be really special. About the city you don’t even have to talk, it’s so beautiful you cannot compare it with anything else.”

[ MORE: FIFA’s Infantino in hot water ]

Yeah, the Eternal City is pretty nice, but it’s most celebrated football club is growing in magnitude, too. Roma’s finished second in Serie A three of the past four seasons, and last season came within four points of its first scudetto since the aforementioned win earlier this century.

Strootman was a massive part of the campaign, returning to the elite form displayed in his first season at the club and in previous campaigns with PSV Eindhoven. He scored six times with seven assists between Serie A and the UEFA Europa League, averaging 2.7 tackles per game, 1.7 interceptions, and 1.4 dribbles per Serie A contest.

That his reclamation of that status came after knee surgeries limited him to 18 matches over the previous two seasons was sweet (if nervy).

(Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

“For me it was like such a relief, especially in the beginning you’d play a game and you’d be happy to play,” Strootman said. “If you won everyone was happy with the win, but I was just happy that I didn’t get injured again. The fitness coaches and technical staff did a great job. I played 50 games, we made the Champions League, and I signed a new contract. I was happy to pay them back on the pitch. I feel good.”

Payback is a theme in our talk with Strootman, who speaks glowingly of club chairman James Pallotta, the American businessman who stood by the midfielder during his injury struggles (NOTE: PST profiled Pallotta in depth last summer).

“He brought me here when he started the project, and he’s always supported me even during my injuries,” Strootman said. “He would call me, and was always there for me. I always told him, when I’m fit I want to pay you back with my play on the pitch. He’s like a president should be.”

It’ll be different from Strootman this season, and not just because of the changes to the Roma roster. Gone are Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rudiger, Leandro Paredes, and retiring Francesco Totti. Arriving are Maxime Gonalons, Hector Moreno, and reports of bids for Riyad Mahrez and the impending arrival of Aleksandar Kolarov excite the fan base.

I Lupi are a club which has been on the precipice of greatness for some time. Now with the Champions League group stage and battles with not just Juve and Napoli but surging AC Milan and Inter Milan, Strootman says it’s time to stop talking big and start acting it out.

[ MORE: Vertonghen says Spurs need to raise game ]

“The last couple years we talked in the preseason about winning the scudetto, winning cups, but we have to show it on the pitch,” he said. “We still need some time, that’s normal, but we need to show on the pitch that we are hungry. We’re a young team with some experienced players. It’s a good mix. We have to show it from the first competition and game by game.”

Strootman also admitted, as many have, that American soccer continues to grow in renown around the Netherlands and Europe in general.

“I think it’s rising,” he said. “A lot more players from Holland are going over to MLS. I don’t see a lot of the games because they don’t show them in Italy. But when you’re here and see the friendly games against the big teams, the level is going up. MLS is getting higher and higher.”

Roma faces Spurs at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday before a July 30 battle with Juventus at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

New Premier League schedule for April announced

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The new Premier League schedule for April has been announced and there are plenty of changes to times and days.

This is always a huge month in the Premier League season, especially with the title about to be wrapped up, the top four battle set to go down to the wire and the relegation scrap heating up very nicely.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Take a look at the new schedule for April below and click on the link to watch every single Premier League game live across NBC Sports.


New Premier League schedule for April

April 4
7:30 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Wolves
12:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Tottenham

April 5
7:30 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Man City v. Liverpool

April 6
3 p.m. ET: Everton v. Leicester

April 11
7:30 a.m. ET: Man United v. Bournemouth
12:30 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Everton

April 12
9 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Watford
11:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Aston Villa

April 13
3 p.m. ET: Wolves v. Arsenal

April 18
7:30 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace v. Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Leicester

April 19
9 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Wolves
11:30 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Man United

April 20
3 p.m. ET: Brighton v. Liverpool

April 25
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Burnley
12:30 p.m. ET: Brighton v. Man City

April 26
9 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Chelsea
11:30 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Arsenal

Premier League Storylines: Matchweek 27

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Matchweek 27 is almost here in the Premier League and it is time to focus on the top storylines ahead of the action.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below we take a deeper look and preview the big battles.


Lampard v. Mourinho in huge top 4 battle at Stamford Bridge [ STREAM ]

  • Chelsea v. Tottenham, Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Talk about pivotal. So many storylines are swirling ahead of this one as Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have won just four of their last 14 Premier League and are somehow still in fourth, but they are now just one point ahead of Jose Mourinho’s Spurs who at one stage were 11 points off the top four. This rivalry is always intense and both sets of players know what is expected. It may not be pretty but this London derby will be hugely important in deciding how the final months of the season pans out for both. Heung-min Son has joined Harry Kane on the injury list so Spurs will look to Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura for an attacking threat, while Frank Lampard is without Christian Pulisic (still) and N’Golo Kante with Tammy Abraham a doubt. The key man here could be Olivier Giroud who looks primed to play a big role either from the start or off the bench and his clinical finishing may be the difference. Expect plenty of antics from Mourinho on the sidelines as he returns to the Bridge, a place where he hasn’t won as an opposing manager since 2010 and no longer gets a warm welcome from the Chelsea faithful.


Chance for Guardiola’s boys to seal second [ STREAM ]

  • Leicester City v. Man City, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Man City have had themselves one of the toughest weeks in recent history as last Friday they were handed a two-season ban from European competitions by UEFA. Since then the fans have had their say with plenty of anti-UEFA banners and chants during their midweek home win against West Ham, while CEO Soriano has called the allegations ‘false’ and Pep Guardiola has said he will stay next season no matter what. They want all of the focus to now be on the pitch and they certainly look much better defensive with Aymeric Laporte back fit. He will have to stop Jamie Vardy and the Foxes and this should be a tight, tense game. Brendan Rodgers and Leicester sit in third and are four points back from City and if they have any hope of finishing in the second place, they need to at least not lose at the King Power Stadium. With a trip to Real Madrid coming up in the Champions League last 16 first leg next week, maybe Guardiola will rest a few starters for the trip to Leicester?


Surging Gunners, Toffees getting bounce from new managers [ STREAM ]

  • Arsenal v. Everton, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is a former captain of Arsenal and Everton so this will always be a special game for him and as for Everton’s new man in charge, Carlo Ancelotti was linked with the Arsenal job again and again in recent seasons. Both coaches could have easily ended up in charge of their opponents this Sunday but both won’t care about that as the teams they are managing now are flying. Everton have lost just once in their last 11 games and have dragged themselves from a relegation battle to in the battle for European qualification. Arsenal sit one place and two points behind them as defensive improvement have been key to both teams turning things around. They’ve spent big money to add exciting attacking talents but their recent success is more about adding structure. This will be a tight game. That said, the Gunners are unbeaten in their last 23 league games against the Toffees, winning 19 times, and for whatever reason they just love playing against Everton in the Premier League.


Two steps forward for Man United? [ STREAM ]

  • Man United v. Watford, Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

They rode their luck with VAR calls going their way in a big win at Chelsea on Monday but all of a sudden Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Man United are just three points off the top four. Will it be a case of one step forward and one step back like it has been all season long for them? Man United have beaten Chelsea (twice), Man City, Tottenham and Leicester City but they have lost against the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham to bring the back down to earth with a bang each and every time they looked like serious top four contenders once again. Anthony Martial is in fine form with goals in back-to-back games and the January additions of Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo give them fresh options and extra creativity and power in the final third. Fernandes will be key against Watford as they will sit back, get 10 men behind the ball and try to hit the Red Devils on the counter. United need to develop a Plan B against teams who love to sit back against them and the Portuguese playmaker was brought in to help them break down stubborn opponents. United don’t need any help beating the big boys. It’s the strugglers they’ve struggled against this season but this is a chance for them to take two giant steps forward as defensively Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams look like a settled back five.

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 1

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Chelsea-Manchester United, Arsenal-Newcastle and Manchester City-West Ham.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside Premier League stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 1 in full.

Pep reacts to Sterling’s Real Madrid comments

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola has responded to comments from his player Raheem Sterling about their upcoming UEFA Champions League opponents Real Madrid.

Sterling, 25, spoke to Spanish outlet AS and confirmed that he is really happy at Man City ‘right now’ but admitted that Real Madrid are a ‘fantastic club’ and waxed lyrical about their famous white shirt.

“Right now I’m at City and I’m really happy. But I say Real Madrid are a fantastic club,” Sterling said. “When you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it’s massive. [Rumours of their interest], it’s something that you see all the time, but I’m a City player and I’m enjoying it at the moment, even if things haven’t gone quite planned in the league.

“We now have a massive opportunity in the Champions League. I keep saying Real Madrid is a fantastic club, there’s lovely weather, but I keep saying that I am quite happy at City. I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this. But it’s a fantastic club.”

The photo on the front of AS showed Sterling with a Real Madrid shirt on one shoulder and a Man City shirt on the other.

Guardiola was asked about his response to those comments and if he thought Sterling, or any other players, would be less committed to Man City given their two-year ban from European competitions.

“Players are free to talk and say what they believe and think,” Guardiola said. “We are not hear to tell them what they think. I am sure about the commitment of our players. They have shown it for many years and nothing changes.”

Sterling has returned to training after two weeks out through injury and he could play at Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Guardiola’s men aim to open up a seven-point gap to third-place Leicester with a win.

Sterling’s comments are complimentary about Real Madrid and given their reported admiration for him for quite some time, the timing of saying this is a little odd given City’s ban from UEFA and so much uncertainty around the future of the club in the Champions League.

Despite Guardiola committing himself to staying at Man City for next season and until the end of his contract in the summer of 2021, his players will get plenty of offers to leave if the Champions League ban is upheld. Lionel Messi has joked that Barcelona should “sign the lot of them!” when asked about Sergio Aguero and others signing for the Spanish giants.

Sterling isn’t the first or last Man City player who will be targeted by European giants over the next few months as the situation remains uncertain.