While it wasn't a full-on international break, Serie A Femminile paused again last weekend, marking the third interruption of play this season already. Rather than resting on their laurels, the Roma women squared off against Napoli in a friendly last week, brushing aside their southern compatriots (who are currently third in Serie B) 2-0. It wasn't exactly a challenge, but Betty Bavagnoli at least got to rotate her squad a bit ahead of this week’s round five fixture against tenth place Sassuolo, the first side they ever faced upon entering Serie A last season.
The Neroverdi got the better of Roma that day, but the Giallorosse would exact their revenge in the return fixture last January. Roma and Sassuolo played to an even 4-4 aggregate across two fixtures last season, but you'd be hard pressed to call these teams evenly stacked this time around.
Roma v. Sassuolo: November 2nd. 12:30 CET/6:30 EST. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
Through four matches, Sassuolo have taken only four points, leaving them wallowing in tenth place, having lost two of their last three matches. There isn't a ton we can say about Sassuolo (for a variety of reasons, mostly media scarcity), but their -2 goal differential speaks to the heart of the matter—they just don't have enough punch to counter their shaky defense. They do, however, feature two former Roma players, forward Luisa Pugnali and defender/winger Camilla Labate, who we hope will return to the fold one day soon.
The league will go on yet another break after this match, and with AC Milan opening up a four point gap over third place, Roma need a victory to keep their top two hopes alive. Given the stop and start nature of this season, you may have forgotten where we last left the ragazze, but never fear, I've got you covered.
In their last two matches prior to the mini-break, Roma had waxed their opponents by a collective 8-0. Yes, you read that correctly, 8-0. In successive weeks, Roma defeated Empoli and Verona by duplicate 4-0 scorelines. Led by Manuela Giugliano, Agnese Bonfantini and Annamaria Serturini, Roma's attack was unstoppable, pushing them to within a point of second place AC Milan after round four.
Roma very nearly received a gift from Fiorentina, who took an early lead over Milan on Saturday (which could have set up a potential three-way tie on 12 points), but as it stands now, Roma can reclaim sole possession of third with a victory over Sassuolo on Sunday.
Bavagnoli spoke on her club's growing confidence ahead of Sunday's fixture:
We go into this game with great belief and we’ve worked really hard. We’ve prepared well and morale is high after our recent wins. We’re getting better all the time. I’m happy because I’ve noticed small improvements – things like our determination to start games strong and be aggressive. We know that we’ve prepared well.
After brushing off their round one defeat to Milan, the Giallorosse have reeled off three straight clean sheets, beating back opponents by a collective 10-0 scoreline, so it's not hard to see why they're brimming with confidence, but Bavagnoli exercised caution in the same breath.
I’m expecting to see a strong, determined, well-organised side. The two matches Sassuolo lost two were against Juventus and Fiorentina. They’ve signed some great players as well - players like Daniela Sabatino, who needs no introductions, and [Luisa] Pugnali. They’ve added real quality to a team that was already very well equipped.
She's the reigning manager of the year for a reason, folks. What impresses me most about Bavagnoli is how she's able to maintain perspective throughout all the highs and lows of a season. With her side absolutely steamrolling opponents lately and welcoming lowly Sassuolo to town, she immediately speaks to their strengths and points out the level of opponents they've faced this season.
And she's absolutely correct. Sassuolo may be mired in 10th place at moment, but a win tomorrow could vault them all the way back up to fifth. So, yeah, they're not great at the moment, but they're not a side to be trifled with.
The halting nature of this league can make it hard to create and maintain momentum, but as we've cautioned all along, Milan and Juventus aren't waiting for anyone—Roma has no choice but to keep up.
Nothing short of a win is acceptable tomorrow.