If you've been following our AS Roma Women coverage lately, you're no doubt aware where the club stands. Sure, their dreary start to the season effectively removed them from the title chase and put the Champions League just beyond their reach, but Roma have since rebounded to become one of the best clubs in the league. With three straight victories in the league, Roma are the second most in-form team at the moment, trailing only Fiorentina who have won eight straight matches, putting them neck and neck with Juventus in the Scudetto chase.
Speaking of which, if you'll allow a quick aside, Juve and Fiorentina's six pointer this weekend marks what is very likely the most important Serie A fixture on the peninsula this season. So important is this clash, the match has been moved from Juve's usual home ground, the aptly named Juventus Training Center, to the Allianz Arena.
I know we're supposed to hate Juventus in all its forms, which I do, but this is a HUGE moment for the league and the development of women's calcio in general. Following Atletico Madrid's recent example, where a match between Atletico and Barcelona's women's sides packed some 60,000 fans into the Wanda, the league and/or Juve are primed to use the heated rivalry between these two sides as fuel to promote women's football in Italy.
With the game growing in general, particularly ahead of another World Cup summer, it would behoove Italy to do whatever it takes to push Serie A Femminile up the pecking order in women's football, and pitting two sides with historical animosity between them in the middle of the tightest Scudetto race possible and in arguably country's best stadium is a stroke of genius.
The only way it could be better is if it were Roma playing and not Fiorentina, but that will have to wait I suppose.
Okay, so that wasn't the quickest aside, but I have absolutely fallen in love with this league, so I'm fully on board with this move, even if it means praising Juventus.
Anyway, back to it....
Roma vs. Atalanta: March 24th. 12:30 CET/7:30 EDT. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
Roma have only four domestic matches remaining before they put a pin in their inaugural season, three of which will serve as a tuneup for the second leg of their oh so critical Coppa Italia semifinal against the aforementioned Fiorentina. And while those next three matches won't deliver any tangible rewards, keeping bodies healthy and polishing off the rough edges will go a long way towards helping Roma advance to the Coppa Italia finale, so focus and execution are the orders of the day.
First up in that quest is fifth place Atalanta, a squad Roma bested in a rather tight affair in November...
November 24th: Atalanta 0, Roma 2
When Emma Lipman found Annamaria Serturini from...God, I don't know, 80 yards out...in only the sixth minute, it seemed like the rout was on; Roma are awfully tough to contain when Serturini is running wild like that. However, credit Atalanta Mozzanica with not completely collapsing, though Serturini, Agnese Bonfantini and Martina Piemonte almost blew the barn doors off this one several times. Piemonte in particular found herself in prime scoring position multiple times, finally finding the back of the net in the 90th minute off a Bonfantini assist.
The First Tune Up
As we just mentioned, the measure of the next few matches, beyond the scoreboard, is simply how efficiently and effectively Roma operate. Bagging nine points over that stretch would be amazing, especially since they have third place AC Milan next week, but keeping their wide open attacking flowing and shoring up a defense that has allowed 20 goals (worst among the top four, and more than double Fiorentina) are the less obvious but equally important objectives over that stretch.
In last week's 5-0 laugher over Chievo, Bavagnoli brought a few fresh faces into the fold, starting Maria Zecca up top and putting the seldom used Jenny Bitzer in at right back, and with Zecca scoring the fastest goal of the season, it's safe to say that tinkering worked quite well. Bitzer also looked lively in her near 80 minutes of action, thereby giving Bavagnoli further options in defense.
And really, outside of center back Allyson Swaby, Bavagnoli found semi-meaningful minutes for virtually all of her regulars; it's amazing what one can achieve in blowouts, right?
Atalanta, sitting nine points behind Roma in fifth place, are just a bit better than 10th place Chievo and are riding a mini-streak of their own having won three of their past four matches, a stretch in which they haven't conceded a single goal.
If this were the NBA or any sport with a playoff format, we'd say Atalanta are peaking at precisely the right moment, but unfortunately for them, it's too little too late. However, given that form and that defensive rigidity, they are an ideal opponent for Roma to face, sort of like a boxer who struggles against southpaws facing a left-handed sparring partner leading up to a title bout.
All season long we've sang the praises of Annamaria Serturini, the club's leading scorer and joint fifth in the league, all the while warning of a sleeping giant, Martina Piemonte, Roma's 21-year-old striker. Piemonte, a physically imposing forward with technique for days, has been so close to breaking out so many times this season—seemingly always in the thick of the action and, on several occasions, inches away from a goal—and with two scores in her last three matches, Piemonte may finally be finding her form.
Don't get me wrong, it's not as if opponents have been able to slowdown Serturini, but having Piemonte's presence in the middle makes things easier for all of Roma's attackers, and if Roma's 1-1 draw in the first leg of the semifinal against the Viola was any indication, the Giallorosse will need as much firepower as they can get to claim some silverware this season.
We can't overlook Atalanta of course, but if Roma hold true to form they should be able to penetrate the Goddesses defense, removing yet another hurdle in their quest to topple Fiorentina on the 17th of April.