While I'd like to say that Roma were welcomed back from the break with a neat and tidy match played under gloriously sunny skies, the disheveled pitch, gray clouds, and shoddy officiating today in Toscana were anything but hospitable. The Giallorosse entered this game on the back of a four-match winning streak and were seemingly primed to make that five against eighth-place Florentia.
We're only five matches into the season, but thanks to the vagaries of the Serie A Femminile scheduling, the league has stopped three times already, making it nearly impossible for any team to establish a shred of consistency, a fact evident in Betty Bavagnoli's continued tinkering.
While she's not quite at Ranieri tinkering levels, Bavagnoli hasn't yet settled on a consistent starting eleven, particularly in the midfield and attack, where she's shuffled the likes of Giada Greggi, Lindsey Thomas, and Andrine Hegerberg in and out of the starting lineup thus far.
Despite all that, the talent scales were firmly tipped in Roma's favor today, but thanks to an incredibly dodgy pitch, Florentia had an invisible hand helping them slow down the Giallorosse's vaunted attack. And in matches such as these—where the pitch conditions are less than ideal and your athletic advantage is blunted—you have to take advantage of every opportunity.
Unfortunately for Roma, Florentia found the first break through, as Melania Martinovic beat Camelia Ceasar in the 12th minute. Ceasar looked to have the proper angle, but she just didn't react quickly enough to Martinovic's low shot.
Roma would mount a comeback and very nearly found an equalizer but Vanessa Bernauer's 25th minute attempt struck the cross bar, and would prove to be Roma's best chance in a muddy and disjointed first half.
With the pitch falling to pieces, the mud slowing down Roma's quick-passing game, and the referee ignoring blatant fouls, it just didn't seem like Roma's day, but 45 minutes is an eternity for a team that can score in bunches like Roma. There was ample time to level, and perhaps even win, this match.
Unfortunately, no one sent that memo to the Florentia dressing room. With the second half barely underway, the home side doubled their lead. In the 47th minute, the league's only American/Canadian hybrid, Maegan Kelly, struck her fourth goal of the season when she pounced on a loose ball in the Roma box, pushing the Florentia advantage to 2-0.
It's hard to articulate how frustrating this match was to this point. The pitch was just absolute shit and really only seemed to effect Roma (their up-tempo pass and go approach slowed to a crawl), while Florentia just seemed to be in the right place at exactly the right moment. It's not as if either of their goals stemmed from some classical total football movements, they just found the perfect shot at the perfect time.
Bavagnoli would counter these moves by swapping out Giada Greggi and Annamaria Serturini for Andrine Hegerberg and Agnese Bonfantini, respectively. Bonfantini had a golden chance to draw one back in the 60th minute when she got on the end of a low cross from Amalie Thestrup, but her rushed attempt skied over the crossbar, heaping further pressure on Roma.
The goal that had alluded Roma through the first hour finally came in the 62nd minute when Manuela Giugliano found Lindsey Thomas in the six yard box for an easy tap-in goal. Despite all the external factors conspiring against them, Giugliano was masterful today, setting up multiple chances in the second half, both in the run of play and from set pieces.
If this was a classic EA Sports FIFA match, this was the point where Bavagnoli changed her approach to “attack.” Roma absolutely BROUGHT IT for the final 30 minutes of this match, hitting Florentia with wave after wave, dominating possession and pressing the issue deep in Florentia territory.
In keeping with the theme of the men's season, the Roma women were robbed by some suspect officiating deep in the second half. With Bernauer dribbling into the box in the 87th minute, a Florentia defender got a foot in Bernauer's path, taking her down in the penalty area. It wasn't the most egregious collision we've ever seen, but the defender definitely got more leg than ball, but rather than awarding a penalty, the referee carded Bernauer for simulation.
Undaunted, Roma would continue their onslaught, winning loose balls, recycling possession deep in the final third and winning multiple corners, one of which almost produced a dramatic equalizer.
In what ended up being the final chance of the match, Giugliano played yet another perfect corner towards the near post. With Elisa Bartoli making a darting run towards the ball, it seemed like Roma were poised to steal a point at the death. The delivery, the run and Bartoli's technique were all picture perfect, but the ball just...and I mean just...missed tucking into the corner.
There wasn't anything either player could have or should have done differently, but the miss was indicative of the match as a whole—frustrating.
And that was all she wrote. Despite their late rushes, Roma simply couldn't overcome that early deficit.
Thanks to all the stopping and starting in the Serie A Femminile schedule, it feels like we're much further along in the season than we really are, but with only six matches in the books, we're barely a quarter of the way into the season, so we'd be foolish to draw any firm conclusions yet.
Despite all that, Roma had a chance to move into second place today, staking a claim to a Champions League spot next season and possibly threatening Juventus for the Scudetto this season. It's still very early days, but as we've cautioned all season long, the margins at the top of the table are razor thin. Every. Single. Point. Counts.
And, based on results throughout the rest of the league, Roma have even more to regret in the wake of this match. Juventus and Milan played to a 2-2 draw, putting Juventus on 16 points, meaning Roma, had they defeated Florentia, would have been ONE POINT behind Juve with a chance to go top of the table next week when they face the Old Lady at home.
But, as it stands now, Roma are stuck on 12 points, good for fourth in the league behind Fiorentina (13 points), Milan (14 points) and Juventus (15 points). All is not lost of course—Roma can still potentially seize second place next week—but make no mistake, they squandered an enormous opportunity today.
The Scudetto was, is, and will remain a four-team race between these clubs. Today was disappointing for sure, but if Roma can rebound and defend their home ground next week, they're right back in the title conversation.
It's time for Roma to dig deep and show the league what they're made of.