I hate Juventus. You hate Juventus. We all hate Juventus. And whether you want to admit it or not, much of that hate is born from jealousy; not so much about the titles, though those must be nice, but about organizational stability and consistency. Hell, Juve, as part of one of the most sweeping conspiracies in the history of sport, got thrown down to Serie B yet barely missed a beat when coming back up, dominating the league like few clubs before them. James Pallotta, Monchi and Eusebio Di Francesco have a tough road to hoe as they attempt to close the gap behind Juve, but just imagine if they could start from square one: What would they do differently? What sort of players would they recruit? What sort of tactics would they implement? Could they possibly become Juve?
Well, there is an avenue through which that thought experiment has the chance to become reality, and it's the one currently being explored by Betty Bavagnoli and the rest of the AS Roma's women's team. And I think that's precisely why I've been so caught up in their inaugural season, because it gave me a chance to wipe the slate clean, keeping all the love I have for the club while relinquishing all the frustration and self-loathing wrought by following the men's side so closely for so long
And so far it's paid off—Bavagnoli's team plays with purpose, pride, and passion.
Juventus vs. Roma: February 3rd. 12:30 CET/6:30 EST. Stadio Juventus Center, Garino.
But, as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same...
October 21, 2018: Roma 0, Juventus 4
It's probably for the best I couldn't find any highlights of this match because, as the scoreline suggests, there weren't many bright spots for Roma. While Roma kept it close for a good hour or so, a second-half hat trick from English attacker Eniola Aluko sealed the deal; this was a walkover for Juventus, plain and simple.
However, as the ensuing four months have proved, Roma had nowhere to go but up. The Giallorosse earned their very first victory the following week against Florentia and haven't really looked back, winning 10 of their next 13 matches in all competitions.
So, it should come as no surprise that Roma are feeling just a bit more confident this time around. Defender Emma Lipman, who has become the de facto spokesperson to the English-speaking world, spoke about the importance of Sunday's match and just how much the club has changed since the first meeting.
Lipman went on to describe the change in attitude all this winning has fostered:
We showed a few weeks before against Sassuolo that we are capable of doing it. I think the difference now with this team is that we believe that we can still win games, even if we go behind. Maybe at the start of the season, when we were growing and learning as a team, maybe we did not have the belief that we do now.
The team is growing all the time. The environment that has been created by the staff and the players – we are all so much more positive and excited about what we can achieve by the end of the season. We want the games to come as quickly as possible so we can show what we are doing every day in training.
I think that the start of 2019 has shown that we can come back from games, we don’t have to take the lead, we can fight back – it’s good
Source: AS Roma
I purposefully cut the quite off there—their ability to fight back—because, well, they may have to against Juventus. Not only do Juve sport three of the league's top ten scorers, including Limpan's compatriot Aluko, they're currently rocking a +42 goal differential...+42! Juve have only conceded five goals this season and haven't been scored on since December 22nd.
I shouldn't be surprised because it's Juventus, but that is incredibly impressive. Speaking on their ability to break down such a stupendous side, Bavagnoli and captain Elisa Bartoli spoke on the need for hard work and focus.
For her part, Bavagnoli echoed what Lipman mentioned above—toeing the line between deference and determination:
We know that we are going up against the best side in the league – a very strong squad with some incredible players, but my girls are growing in confidence and belief too. We need to go there with commitment and humility – and try to show that we are maturing, and we have the talent to create problems for them too
Bartoli expanded a bit, offering a small glimpse of the club's approach Sunday:
We need to make sure they have no space to work with, to stop them high up the pitch. Our awareness is improving, we must try to use our youthfulness when we can to be aggressive for the full 90 minutes
Our aim is to make things tough for everyone we play – and then to grow, to improve even with next season in mind. But the season is still far from over, we are up there, perhaps we can push on and finish third or even second.
Unfortunately, Roma's ability to give Juve 90 minutes of hell on Sunday took a bit of knock with the news that midfielder Claudia Ciccotti has suffered a sprained MCL, likely facing an extended stretch on the sideline. So much of what they've been able to achieve over the past few months falls down to Ciccotti's versatility and strength in the middle of the park; this won't be an easy loss to overcome.
In her place, look for Bavagnoli to lean on Flaminia Simonetti in midfield alongside Giada Greggi and Vanessa Bernauer. Simonetti, the hero of Roma's comeback against Verona last week, has proven to be nearly as versatile and effective as Ciccotti, so she should get the lion's share of Ciccotti's minutes while she recovers.
But this match isn't really about the midfield. If Roma stand any chance at throttling Juve's attack, the onus falls squarely on the shoulders of Lipman, Bartoli, Angelica Soffia and Federica Di Criscio.
In addition to Aluko, Juve sport two of Italy's finest players, Barbara Bonansea and Cristiana Girelli, who have teamed up for 18 goals in approximately 2,000 combined minutes, meaning there's a good chance one of them will score on Sunday.
With such a spread of attacking options, Bartoli, Lipman and the rest of Roma's rearguard may have to have the match of their lives to wrest points from this fixture.
Juventus have an 11 point cushion over fourth place Roma, so an upset tomorrow won't necessarily dent their title chances, but firing such a definitive shot across their bow would be a signal of intent from Roma—you can have the league now, but soon enough it'll be ours.