At this point, I must sound like a broken record, but Betty Bavagnoli's artful rotation of her squad was front and center in Roma's 3-1 victory over Florentia. With starting midfielder Claudia Ciccotti sidelined with a knee injury, and her deputy Manuela Coluccini also wearing a hefty knee brace following her late-week surgery, Bavagnoli was forced once again to play Boggle with her lineup, shuffling up all three phases of her lineup.
Taking Coluccini's place in midfield was (as we guessed) Flaminia Simonetti, who lined up alongside Vanessa Bernauer and Giada Greggi, supporting the attacking trio of Annamaria Serturini, Martina Piemonte and Agnese Bonfatini up top.
The biggest changes, as it turns out, were left for the defense. With Federica Di Criscio watching from the stands as well, Bavagnoli continued to mix and match the backline around club captain and left back Elisa Bartoli, surrounding her with Allyson Swaby and Heden Corrado in central defense, with Angelica Soffia starting opposite Bartoli.
Coluccini has been a bit player for Roma this season—largely due to Ciccotti's stellar play—but one look at this clip tells you all you need to know about the esprit de corps of this side.
That's Coluccini, just days after her ACL surgery, being gently mobbed by her teammates. Whether it's due to the youth of the squad, or indeed the club itself, or not is irrelevant; this is an extremely tight knit group, and moments like this only serve to drive that point home. When things go astray on the pitch, you don't see pointing or hands being thrown up in frustration, they just keep going, keep pressing, and as we saw today, keep winning.
Anyway, on to the match...
As we mentioned in the preview, while Roma's loss to Juventus was (in a sense) a sign of progress in the grand scheme of things, it was just that—a loss. After starting off the season with three consecutive defeats, Roma's one-goal victory over Florentia in October was the start of a dramatic turnaround for the Giallorosse, but with Florentia snapping their own mini-skid last week against Orobica, they were actually the more in form team at the moment, so there were no such assurances this time around.
While the opening minutes of the match were relatively even, Roma wouldn’t have to wait that long for a breakthrough, and it came from one of their newest faces.
Allyson Swaby: 16th Minute (Roma 1, Florentia 0)
This was one of the stranger sequences we've seen all season (2:04 mark in that clip), and it all started with an inexcusable turnover from Florentia. Controlling the ball in their own end, and with very little pressure from Roma, the Florentia defense (for some reason) decided to play the ball back to keeper Chiara Marchitelli rather than either full-back, who were (again) relatively unfettered by Roma's forwards. Not expecting the ball, Marchitelli couldn't catch up to the pass, which then found its way over the end line, gifting Roma a corner kick.
Enter Vanessa Bernauer, Roma's master of all things set-pieces. Bernauer played in a looping and gently in-swinging corner to the back post, one that looked like it was bound to score of its own accord, but Swaby rose to meet the ball, giving it that final oomph it needed to nestle into the upper corner.
Things in Italy seldom settle at 1-0 these days, so Roma continued to press, looking to double their lead. With Serturini not up to her usual standard, the bulk of play funneled through Bonfantini, and while she didn't score today, she made the right wing her virtual playground.
Throughout this match, Bonfantini could be seen blowing past the Florentia defense—and I mean blowing past, no feints, no stepovers, she just ran right past them—or cutting in-wards trying to find Piemonte in the middle or Bernauer at the edge of the 18. This match was a prime example of how explosive and how creative she is, and how she can impact a match without finding the back of the net or even setting up a goal; she's a constant threat regardless of form.
The remainder of the first half played on without any newsworthy events, but Roma would double their lead shortly before the hour mark, with their Swiss ace once again causing a ruckus from a setpiece.
Vanessa Bernauer: 57th Minute (Roma 2, Florentia 0)
(1:07 minute mark in that clip) This was almost identical to Roma's 16th minute goal, only this time Bernauer didn't need an assist to beat the keeper directly from the corner. What's more, Bernauer started the attacking move that eventually lead to this corner by winning a tough ball in midfield before quickly playing it out to, you guessed it, Bonfantini. Putting her foot firmly on the gas, Bonfantini charged down the right flank, beating the final defender in the box before being dispossessed at the last moment, winning a corner in the process.
Actually, now that I give it a second look, this was even more impressive than her first attempt. Somehow Bernauer, a righty, put an inward spin on this ball (taken from the right corner) with just enough velocity and rotation, and at precisely the perfect angle, to actually place it in the back of the net, giving Roma the eventual match winner in the process.
Florentia would pull one back ten minutes later thanks to an uncharacteristic breach in the Roma defense, but thanks to Bartoli winning a penalty in the box, which was quickly and powerfully converted by Piemonte, the Giallorosse would put this match beyond all doubt in the 89th minute.
We started this off by lauding the club's depth, and Bavagnoli's management therein, so we might as well wrap it up in the same manner. Several weeks ago, when the club announced the signing of Swaby, it was greeted with a shoulder shrug. At that point, the defense was the sole domain of Di Criscio and Emma Lipman, so Swaby was seen as an intriguing albeit superfluous addition.
However, in recent weeks the Connecticut girl, who played at Boston College and then in Iceland, and who somehow represents Jamaica internationally, has made herself almost indispensable for Roma. She's tall, strong, cool under pressure and, as we saw today, a threat on set pieces. And the balance Bavagnoli has struck between her three central defenders, not to mention 16-year-old sensation Heden Corrado, has been remarkable, and as we've seen in 2019, it's paid huge dividends.
Roma's depth isn't limited to sheer numbers either. With Serturini and Giada Greggi off the mark, the creative and scoring onus fell on Bernauer and Bonfantini. With her poise, creativity, leadership and set-piece wizardry, Bernauer is every bit the number ten she wears on her back, and today she shouldered an even larger load, dictating the pace and location of play, winning 50/50s in midfield and, of course, setting up and scoring Roma's first two goals.
The tale of Bonfantini today, as we mentioned, was more about her physical threat than actual results. For as great as Greggi and Serturini have been this season, Bonfantini is really the best one-v-one player on this team—she has the close control and quick feet to fool and/or evade defenders in tight spaces and the sheer, flat-out speed to beat them in a straight line. Simply put, she cannot be stopped, and as we saw today, by simple virtue of her speed, she was able to win multiple corners and free kicks for Roma, two of which Bernauer was able to convert into goals, directly or indirectly.
So when I say this is a team...a complete team, you see what I mean, right?
Given that this was a brand new venture, I'm not quite sure how they pulled it off, but if they can keep this group together, big things are on the horizon. Big. Things.