If you've been following CdT for awhile, you're no doubt familiar with how much I loathe international breaks. Sure they serve a purpose, but now that I have to deal with twice as many, I'm not sure how I'll stay sane. After breaking for the winter holidays in late December, the Roma ragazze returned in early January with consecutive victories over Sassuolo and Tavaganacco only to go on break...again. With the likes of Elisa Bartoli and Agnese Bonfantini returning from international duty, Roma can finally resume their 2019 revenge tour.
As you may recall, Roma started the season in quite a funk, going 0 for 3 in their first handful of matches, looking not so much overwhelmed as inefficient; the chances were there, they just couldn't bury them. However, since officially kicking off the second half of their schedule, the ladies are a perfect two for two in their vendetta voyage.
Roma vs. Verona: January, 26th. 14:30 CET/8:30 EST. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
Next in line for the Roma wrath is seventh place Hellas Verona, who had to consider themselves lucky to defeat Roma the first time around...
October 14, 2018: Verona 1, Roma 0
In the squad's second ever match, Betty Bavagnoli loosened the reins on her young squad, and despite the lack of goals, it showed. Roma stretched the Verona defense left, right, and center, diving through the middle, working the wings and lobbing the ball over the backline, putting (by my count) seven shots on target, at least four of which had to be considered clear cut scoring chances; they simply toyed with the Verona defense, it was a joy to watch.
The problem, as you may have guessed, was that, you know, they didn't score. In addition to a disallowed goal, Roma was denied by the woodwork, blocked in the 18, and had at least two one-v-ones with the keeper snuffed out. It was, in many ways, a snapshot of the first several weeks of their existence; well designed and well executed until the very end.
New Year, New Focus
Through the first two matches of 2019, Roma have looked like a team on a mission, blowing out their first two opponents by a combined scoreline of 7-1, punctuated by their 5-0 laugher over Tavagnacco two weeks ago. It's a far cry from the team that struggled to put one measly little goal past Verona—a team that now has a negative four goal differential—last October.
One of the club's youngest members, 19-year-old defender Camilla Labate, spoke to the mentality that has fueled Roma's rise up the table:
We wanted to start the New Year in the right way...We have started to find our feet, and we have started to get a better idea of the league and our ability and how we can pick up more points.
The first few games in the season didn’t go so well, and then after that we began to realise our strength came from our team spirit and improved. So we wanted to start the second half of the season in the right way. It’s been going well so far and we want to keep going.
In addition to that team spirit, part of what has enabled Roma to achieve such great success lately is the manner in which Bavagnoli manages her squad rotation. While she has her stalwarts—Elisa Bartoli, Claudia Ciccotti, Annamaria Serturini, Giada Greggi and Agnese Bonfantini in particular—Bavagnoli has done a masterful job balancing the minutes for the rest of the squad, keeping the defense fresh by mixing and matching between Emma Lipman, Heden Corrado, Federica Di Criscio and, in recent weeks, Allyson Swaby, while Luis Pugnali, Martina Piemonte and Flaminia Simonetti have split time in attack.
Whether this is something she's done by choice or out of necessity we can't say, but it's working, as seven players (including two defenders) have scored two or more league goals thus far, while the defense has only conceded five goals since November. Like Labate said, things are coming together for this side.
With Roma seven points out of the league's final Champions League spot, not to mention holding a slim three point lead over fifth place Fiorentina, it will be interesting to see if Bavagnoli sticks with those flexible pairings or if she'll institute some measure of consistency outside of her core quintet—Bartoli, Ciccotti, Greggi, Serturini and Bonfantini.
With nine matches left to play, we have a little time to figure that out, but in the immediate sense, Roma simply needs to correct the errors that vexed them against Verona the first time out—Do. Not. Waste. Chances.
Greggi, Serturini and Bonfantini are all scorching at the moment, so something tells me history against Verona won't repeat itself.