We often bemoan the lack of parity in Serie A, a league that has been dominated by one team for nearly an entire decade, but thanks in part to the, shall we say, financial limitations imposed on Serie A Femminile by the FIGC, the women's game is a bit more competitive. Sure, the talent isn't equally spread between all 12 clubs, but there are at least four teams that have legitimate Scudetto aspirations, something the men's game hasn't been able to claim in well over a decade.
Between Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Roma, we have arguably the four best run women's clubs on the peninsula jockeying for table positions each and every week. As we entered Round 6, these sides were separated by a mere four points, which, as we say nearly every week in these spaces, makes every point worth its weight in gold.
Roma v. Juve: November 24th. 12:30 CET/6:30 EST. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
With precious little room for error, Roma's 2-1 defeat to Florentia last weekend robbed the Giallorosse of a chance to go second—which would have been their highest ever spot on the table—but they fell all the way back down to fourth, one point behind third place Fiorentina.
As we discussed with BWRAO earlier this week, both Milan and Fiorentina have relative gimmes this round, which adds further importance to Sunday's tilt between Roma and Juventus. Now that Milan have won their Round 7 fixture, Juve need to at least steal a point from Roma to pull even with the Rossonerre at the top of the table, while Roma simply need a victory to keep pace with those other three squads.
So, what's Roma to do?
Well, if you read anything coming out of the capital this week, the magnitude of last week's loss to Florentia wasn't lost on the squad.
First up, head coach Betty Bavagnoli:
We weren’t determined enough. Now we will have to reflect and really think about where we want to go and what sort of team we want to be. The conditions were what they were, we have to take responsibility and work on getting better.
Facing Juventus next gives us the chance to get over the mental mistakes we made today. We need to play very differently and we’ll have to prepare a few different things tactically too. In the second half today we had four clear-cut chances and we didn’t make the most of them.
Either we believe in ourselves and really focus on making that step in quality, or we will never progress.
Tactics aside, perhaps Bavagnoli's greatest strength is her ability to keep things in perspective, to frame disappointments and struggles within the broader context of the season, not losing sight of the greater goal—continued progress. By doing so, she ensures that her squad can still see the forest for the trees; one loss doesn't change their aspirations for the season—qualifying for Europe.
She didn't really elaborate on what tactical changes she'll make, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Andrine Hegerberg inserted back into the lineup. Possession and winning loose balls will be paramount against a side as good as Juve, two attributes Hegerberg brings in spades.
Star summer signing Manuela Giugliano echoed Bavagnoli's comments following last week's defeat:
Against Florentia we got our approach wrong – in terms of how we were prepared we didn’t go out there in the first half with the right focus and determination...We talked a lot after the game amongst ourselves – more so than usual, because there were regrets there about dropping three points.
Of course we will work on those things because I think they are vital for every game, and especially the next one [against Juventus].
Everyone knows about Juventus – they are a winning side, they have quality players with tactical and technical qualities of the highest level. We will definitely try to play our way, the way that makes us as strong as possible.
It's good to see the symmetry between coach and player, we just have to hope that their actions match their words. Roma definitely played Juve tougher in their second fixture, a 1-0 loss in Turin, so the gulf in class between these sides isn't as great as it seems, especially not since Roma retooled their roster over the summer.
Giugliano and Bavagnoli both alluded to playing "their way” but what exactly does that mean? In the wake of such a frustrating loss, it can be difficult to remember what Roma look like at their best, a level they must reach if they have any chance of defeating Juventus on Sunday.
As Giugliano said, Juve have tactical and technical qualities of the highest level. With Cristiana Girelli, Barbara Bonansea and Aurora Galli, Juve have arguably the three best Italian players at the moment (though I'd argue Giguliano is in that mix), so it's not likely that Roma can render all three of them useless, but they can frustrate them.
If Bavagnoli opts for a midfield of Andrine Hegerberg, Giada Greggi and Manuela Giugliano, Roma should have the right combination of ball-winning, speed and creativity to offset Juve's midfield of Galli, Valentina Cernoia and Martina Rosucci, and in so doing they can frustrate Girelli and Bonansea up top by simply interrupting the flow of passes in their direction.
If Roma can control the midfield, or at least not completely cede possession to Juventus, then the interplay between Agnese Bonfantini, Amalie Thestrup and Annamaria Serturini should be enough to conjure a goal or two. Bonfantini and Thestrup seem to be developing a unique chemistry, where their runs and positioning are producing an increasing number of chances for one another in front of goal, and could threaten Juve’s potent back line.
It certainly won't be easy, but if Roma can be the aggressor tomorrow afternoon, they have a solid chance of walking away with three points.