Normally when we see Roma v. Juventus on the fixture list, we collectively gird our loins expecting a cataclysmic disaster of the highest order. While Roma have stolen an odd win here or there, the Old Lady has historically dominated what should otherwise be a match between two of Italy’s biggest clubs. Fast forward to 2018, with both Roma and Juventus finally competing in Serie A Femminile, Roma had a chance to wipe the slate clean, to prove that they, as an organization, can stand on level pegging with Italy's most successful organization.
It sounded good in theory, but when the rubber met the road, it was more of the same. Juventus waxed Roma 4-0 in their first meeting, which, to be fair, was only Roma's third match in existence. The Giallorosse did a little better the second time around, falling to Juve 1-0 on the road thanks to a 64th minute goal from Barbara Bonansea. The difference between the clubs was still vast (Juve went on to win their second straight title) but it didn't seem quite as insurmountable as the men's side.
But, as they say, what is past is prologue, what is present is paramount. And as we get ready to flip the calendars over to 2020, Roma and Juventus are separated by a mere four points, making Sunday's match at the Tre Fontane arguably the most crucial fixture between these two organizations in God knows how long.
With that in mind, we turned once again to our friend Danny, the head honcho at our Juve site, Black &White & Read All Over, to glean some insight into the Juventus women.
1) Serie A Femminile is still a bit new to most of us, but Scudetti aside, what has impressed you most about this Juventus group?
BWRAO: I may sound like a bit of a softy here, but the biggest thing I like most about this Juventus Women team is the simple personality of it. Often times with the men’s team — especially since Cristiano Ronaldo arrived — is that everything is so damn centered around one person that you sometimes forget the fun of it all. Much like we saw this summer during the Women’s World Cup, the Juventus Women team is a group that you simply like to root for. They’ve got personality up and down the roster, they seem like genuinely good people and you can tell that they just like being a part of something like Juve is trying to build — and that’s before you consider they’re really, really good.
Obviously so many of them being Italian and playing a key role on the national team is a stark contrast from the Juve men now that the Azzurri core we saw under during the earlier parts of this decade have basically all moved on. Many of the stars on Juve’s roster were together at Brescia before signing in Turin, so this isn’t the first time the likes of Barbara Bonansea, Sara Gama, Martina Rosucci and Cristiana Girelli have been on the same team. But, with that said, you can easily get the sense that this is a tight-knit group — which is refreshing with what has been surrounding the men’s team over the last 18 months or so.
Basically, this is a fun group to root for — and, even though it’s still new to all of us, I’m glad that it’s this group with these players being the ones to start it all off.
2) Things at the top of the table are incredibly tight, where we have four teams separated by four points, do you think that sense of urgency is evident in Juve’s play or their pre/post-match comments?
BWRAO: I think it’s pretty safe to say Juventus Women management, coaches and the players were expecting things to be a lot more interesting this season than the past two. They saw what the likes of Roma and Milan have done to get better, plus Fiorentina is always going to be a tough team just like they’ve been the last couple of years. Even as Juve prepared for their Champions League matchup against Barcelona, they were saying that it’s a little too early to put a lot of focus on Europe and that the main goal is to be as competitive as possible domestically.
Remember, this is just the third season Juve’s women’s team has been around.
So, yeah, you can probably tell that they know they’re in a much tighter Scudetto race based on what they’ve said. Or you could just look at the table and know it’s not going to be a case where one late-season game will decide it. And as we saw this past weekend when Juve and Milan played, this Scudetto race, no matter who you’re rooting for among the top four, is going to be pretty interesting to follow once we hit the second half of the season.
3) Last season, Juve were propelled in equal parts by Cristiana Girelli and Barbara Bonansea, but with the latter out most of the season, Girelli has picked it up with 7 goals. How will they accommodate Bonansea’s return? Will it limit what Girelli can do?
BWRAO: The biggest thing that Bonansea’s return to the starting lineup once that eventually happens is that it will bring balance back to the attack. In her absence, Valentina Cernoia has been used out wide more often than not. Obviously, if you followed Italy during the Women’s World Cup this past summer or Juventus Women the last couple of years, that’s not a natural position for Cernoia to play. She’s so much better in a midfield three, so Bonansea coming back will now have things looking a lot more like they have been the last two seasons when Juve’s attack was so good.
If anything, Bonansea coming back will only help Girelli continue her fine start to the season. They’re different kinds of forwards, with Girelli sometimes reminding me of Mario Mandzukic with how hard-nosed and tough she is while working atop the attacking trident. But it will be interesting to see just how quickly Bonansea is able to work her way back into the lineup. She’s three months out from playing any kind of competitive minutes after breaking a bone in her foot. Once she does come back, though, I’m expecting Juve’s attack to be a little more potent.
4) Juventus are obviously no strangers to good goalkeepers, so tell us a bit about Laura Giuliani, what makes her so special?
BWRAO: I’m not sure if Giuliani is in the top echelon of goalkeepers in the women’s game, but I feel safe in saying that she’s definitely in that second tier. It obviously helps having a defender as good as Sara Gama playing in front of her, so Giuliani is rarely peppered on a regular basis But, as is the case a lot of the time, when she does face opposing shots, Giuliani gets the job done.
It may be a convenient comparison, but I think Giuliani and Wojciech Szczesny are a lot alike in terms of their styles as goalkeepers. They’re both very good shot stoppers, they both command their area very well and, when needed, can make the spectacular save as well. Giuliani, at age 26, is still very much getting better as a goalkeeper as time goes on. And if she does take her game up another notch or two, then she’ll definitely be considered one of the game’s best goalkeepers. Even then, she’s still pretty darn good right now.
5) Your roster is full of established Serie A and Azzurre stars, but which new signing has made the greatest impact so far?
BWRAO: Juve weren’t even close to as active as Roma were on the summer transfer market, but you could tell that the goal was to add depth to what we already know is a very good, very Italian and very much established starting lineup. But the most important signing Juve made this summer was to bring in a quality central defender like Linda Sembrant, who has international experience with Sweden and is doing a very good job filling in for Cecilia Salvai as she continues her rehab from major knee surgery.
How Juventus of me to pick a defender as the answer to this question, huh?
While Juve’s two attacking signings — 19-year-old Croatian Andrea Staskova and Brazilian winger Maria Alves — are both for depth and to bring some youth into the squad, they needed somebody to pair with Sara Gama so that rushing Salvai back was never going to be an option. And Sembrant has played about as well as Juve could have hoped for thus far.
6) Finally, give us a prediction for this very early Sunday match.
BWRAO: The Juve women weren’t exactly dominant against Milan even though they had the lead until the very last moments before giving up the equalizer. Their schedule up to this point, outside of facing Barcelona, also hasn’t been all that challenging. So, I think a close game is in store. Give me a 2-1 Juventus Women win.
Thanks to Danny as always for his time. We'll pass along the reverse questions when BWRAO posts them. See you bright and early Sunday!