It's not very often that you play the same team three times in the span of a month, but thanks to their two-legged clash with Fiorentina in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia and tomorrow's Serie A finale, that's precisely the boat in which Roma find themselves. So tightly congested was the schedule that many of Roma's players didn't bother to return to the Eternal City, opting instead to stick around Firenze for a few days, but there are certainly worse ways to spend one's week, right?
While we'll have plenty more to say in our season wraps ups, for the first time this season, it seems like we've run out of story lines. Thanks in part to the cushion they built over fifth place Sassuolo over the past month or so, not to mention the Neroverdi dropping points in the last round, Roma officially wrapped up fourth place last week.
Fiorentina v. Roma: April 29th. 12:30 CET/6:30 EDT. Stadio Gino Bozzi, Firenze.
For a good stretch of the season, it seemed like Roma had a puncher's chance at sneaking into the top three, but considering their poor start to the season and their ugly record against Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina, fourth place is probably just about where Roma deserve to be. Not the most exciting outcome, but a far sight better than it seemed back in September when they lost their first three matches.
Despite the lack of advancement opportunities at present, this match is not without implications. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
With 21 of 22 matches in the books places 4 through 12 are all but settled, but the top three sides, Juve, Milan and Fiorentina, enter the final round of play with only two points separating them. Not only that, Juve and Fiorentina will square off in the Coppa Italia finale at the end of the month, so a shot at the double could very well be determined tomorrow as well.
With first place Juventus squaring off against 8th place Tavagnacco at home, and with Milan facing 10th place Chievo at home, Fiorentina definitely have the toughest fixture of the round; a Roma side not only looking to end the season on a high note, but one hell bent on revenge.
Wednesday's defeat in the Coppa Italia semifinals, the third meeting between these two sides, was a bit of anomaly in some ways. Between their first league meeting and the first leg of the semifinals, Roma and Fiorentina played to a collective scoreline of 1-1, so we had every reason to expect another nail biter. And while Roma held firm for the first 20 minutes or so on Wednesday, once Tatiana Bonetti scored shortly thereafter the wheels sort of fell off; it was as dispirited as we've seen this team in months.
Revenge and spoiling the Viola's Scudetto chances aside, Roma's real motivation is rather intrinsic. After all the progress they made this season, ending it on such a sour note could lead to snowballing self doubt, a point Betty Bavagnoli addressed recently:
These last two days I’ve told the girls that, even if we did not get the result we wanted on Wednesday, we have to stay calm and focused...Because of this we have tried to prepare for Saturday’s game by focusing on the mental aspect more than anything else.
I would like the girls to show their full quality; I want to see players that believe completely in themselves and the ability they have.
It's interesting that Bavagnoli specifically addressed the mental component of this week's preparation. As two of the prior three meetings between these sides proved, Roma are in the Viola's class, but losing in a cup semifinal in such a gutting way, particularly when the domestic season is practically done and dusted, could have last effects into the following season; so ending their inaugural season on a high note, even though it won't produce any trophies, has tremendous psychological value.
We'll have our official summative assessments starting next week, but Roma aren't that far off the pace, and with a few key additions they can be the ones fighting for the title next season.
If Roma come out and take it to the Viola tomorrow, ruining their season in the process, that could give them the boost they need as they head into the summer.