After weeks of pumping this match up, a stretch made worse by yet another international break, the moment is almost upon us: Roma will travel to Firenze tomorrow to take on Fiorentina in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals. With absolutely nothing between them in their prior two fixtures (0-0 in the league, and 1-1 in the first leg), this promises to be an incredibly tight contest, one that is likely to turn on a mental or physical error.
However, if you allow me to state the obvious, there is no tomorrow: Roma simply must find a way to win this match. With their league objectives long since vanished, reaching and hopefully winning the Coppa Italia would be a tremendous achievement for the first year club, one they can use as a platform to make a run at the Scudetto next season.
For the organization as a whole, tomorrow's match is equally important. As we just mentioned, winning a trophy with what is essentially an expansion team (albeit a talented one) is testament to the club's ability to organize and recruit talent under tight deadlines.
In the broader sense, advancing to finals against either Juventus or AC Milan would give Roma a shot at their first senior level trophy since Francesco Totti hoisted the Coppa Italia at the conclusion of the 2007-2008 season. That decade long drought has taken a toll on our collective psyche, so to see a Roma team (especially one that is so Roman) potentially vanquish Juventus in the process would be, well, I'm not going to church it up: it would be pretty fucking sweet.
Fiorentina v. Roma: April 17th. 15:00 CET/9:00 EDT. Stadio Gino Bozzi, Firenze
However, before we worry about that, there is the small matter of defeating the Viola to contend with, something Roma has not managed in their two prior encounters. In fact, Fiorentina has lost only three times all season long and are currently one point behind league leading Juventus with one week to play.
Despite Fiorentina's superior domestic record, the margins between these two sides (at least in their head-to-head meetings) have been virtually non-existent. So tight was the first leg that the possession was split at an even 50/50, while the Viola barely out shout Roma, 13-10.
Speaking of which, a quick look back at the first leg, one in which Roma, yet again, came from behind to equalize
March 13, 2019: Roma 1, Fiorentina 1
Roma came excruciatingly close to grabbing an early lead in this match when Flaminia Simonetti came within inches of breaking open the match as her left footed attempt caromed off the goal post. As it stood, the match remained scoreless until Tatiana Bonetti beat Rosalia Pipitone at the far post.
However, as they've done so often this season, Roma didn't relent. With Vanessa Bernauer controlling possession in the box, surrounded by four Viola defenders, she drew a critical penalty late in the second half, one that Roma almost squandered. With Annamaria Serturini's penalty attempted thwarted, she quickly pounced on the rebound to level the match, putting the Giallorosse on level(ish) pegging heading into tomorrow's match.
While conceding an away goal in these situations is never ideal, it's a damn sight better than being down on aggregate. There are certainly multiple permutations for advancing, but in it's simplest form, Roma just has to win.
With that in mind, here are three ways Roma can vanquish the Viola.
#1: Don't Waste Chances/Don't Rely on Penalties
This one may seem reductive, but we might as well start with the obvious. Over their past seven matches, Roma have struggled in form, winning only three of those contests. A lack of fluidity in the run of play and some dreadful finishing have contributed to Roma's spring skid, and were it not for penalties converted by Serturini against Orobica, Fiorentina and last week against Bari, that skid could have been even worse.
Dating back to their loss to Atalanta in late March, Roma's once potent midfield has been consistently stymied, as opposing defenses have conspired to cut the tether between Bernauer and Greggi, heaping further pressure on Agnese Bonfantini and Serturini to create and finish from out wide.
Considering how tight their first two contests with Fiorentina have been, and also the fact that the Viola have conceded only 12 goals in league play all season long, Roma simply has to convert on whatever chances they create.
I'm not sure there is a tactical solution to this, but if Greggi and Bernauer can make the middle of the attacking third their own, life for Serturini and Bonfantini should be a bit easier.
Speaking of Serturini...
#2: Find a Secondary Threat
Annamaria Serturini is, by most measures, one of Italy's brightest young prospects. Mere weeks away form her 21st birthday, not only has Serturini cracked the Azzurre set up, she's Roma's leading scorer and joint fifth in the league overall. Serturini's future is practically limitless, but the fact that she's scored 26% of her club's goals is worrisome, both for tomorrow and next season.
Serturini has scored four of Roma's past seven goals, including two from the penalty spot; so in that sense, this key to victory flows from point number one. Indeed, one look at the manner in which Betty Bavagnoli has rotated between Martina Piemonte, Luisa Pugnali and lately Maria Zecca up top speaks to Roma's struggles to find a consistent secondary scoring option.
Without some semblance of a threat in the middle, which can be compounded if Fiorentina effectively removes Greggi and Bernauer from the match, the scoring onus falls firmly on Serturini's shoulders.
Tomorrow's match promises to be incredibly close, one that will likely turn on one or two key moments, one of which could be born from pure brute strength.
Martina Piemonte has not been the picture of consistency this season, but she is one of the tallest and strongest forwards in the league, and if she can simply muscle up a defender in a turn-and-shoot scenario or tower over a scrum to head one home, that could be enough to punch Roma's ticket to the final.
Annamaria Serturini is certainly capable of putting the team on her back, but taking even a fraction of that responsibility off her could mean the difference between advancing and going home.
#3: Get the Fullbacks Forward
Might as well keep this river flowing. If points one and two fail, Roma will need a heaping helping of forward runs from Elisa Bartoli and Jenny Bitzer, the latter of whom seems to have stabilized what has been a revolving door at right back this season, though we can't rule out some last minute shuffling from Bavagnoli.
Whatever the case may be, Bartoli and Bitzer were instrumental in Roma's second half turn around against Bari, not only getting up the pitch but maintaining and winning back possession deep in the attacking third.
With Bitzer bombing down the right flank and Bartoli getting forward and even cutting in from the left, Roma's fullbacks can augment and even replace whatever creativity Fiorentina games out of Bavagnoli's midfield.
In a perfect world scenario, points one through three will go off without a hitch, but if all else fails, relying on your captain isn't the worst thing. In fact, it's a bit of a Roma tradition.
Thanks to their slow start to the season and their April dip, Roma's domestic ambitions eroded rather quickly, but they've played Fiorentina as tough as any opponent has this season and denying them a shot at the double while also advancing to the Coppa Italia finale would be an impressive end to a successful season.
Whatever happens, along with Roma's Champions League semifinal last season, tomorrow's match in Firenze stands as one of the biggest and most impactful matches we've seen over the past ten years.