Report cards were often the bane of my existence when I was a teenager. Sure, I knew I'd nail P.E. and sometimes Social Studies, but beyond that it was a roll of the dice: would I get that sweet $5 per A (I think that was the going rate) or was I destined to be perched on a ladder cleaning the gutters as punishment for my poor marks?
While my GPA was ultimately the product of my own effort, they nevertheless caused a lot of consternation between me and my parents, who were both educators by the way, so you can imagine how fraught our dinner table was at the end of every quarter.
Despite my protestations that my grades weren't indicative of my true capabilities or my insistence that trigonometry was bullshit, my pleas fell on deaf ears; your grades are your grades, objective or otherwise.
And as one blossoms into adulthood, that system of assessment never really disappears either. Your As and Bs in math and science are soon replaced by performance reviews at work or stars on ebay or Uber. With the simple click of a mouse, you can rate everything from surgeons to realtors to taco trucks.
Point being, even as an adult you're never far away from being evaluated. And whether it's fair or not, the simplest metrics prevail; stars and letters. Life is nothing but an extended kindergarten after all.
With that in mind, let's weigh and measure Betty Bavagnoli's defense while we have time.
30 goals allowed | 6 clean sheets | +13 goal differential
Roma's defense started off the season in sieve-like fashion, running out to a -5 goal differential through their first five matches. However, after pitching a shutout in week six, Roma’s defense settled down, limiting opponents to one goal or less through their next ten matches, before finishing the season with the league's fourth best goal differential.
Bartoli's Brilliance | Lipman's Passing | Di Criscio's Versatility
Elisa Bartoli was, in many ways, Roma's marquee signing ahead of their inaugural season. Not only is she the club's most accomplished and capped player, as well as a two-time Scudetto and Coppa Italia winner, she's a Roman through and through. Her first season with her hometown club was a revelation. Thanks to her pace, intelligence and grit, Bartoli helped keep the backline functioning during their slow start, featuring at both full back spots, while her offensive work was a critical factor in Roma's turnaround. All told, her four goals were third on the squad and among the league lead for defenders.
No woman is an island of course, and thankfully Bartoli got a helping hand from a talented English import.
Emma Lipman, who became the club's de facto spokesperson to the English speaking world, was a rock at the center of defense, providing her new club with steady and composed defending and some killer distribution from the back—check out that assist to Luisa Pugnali!
As one of the few veterans on the team, Lipman's poise and intelligence, while hard to exactly quantify, were essential elements in Roma's maiden season in Serie A. Her work rate, tactical understanding and calm distribution from the back were critical in everything Roma achieved this season; we can only hope she remains with Roma.
Of course, with every defense, you need someone who can fill multiple roles throughout the season, seamlessly shifting between full-back, wing-back and center-back. For Roma, that person was Federica Di Criscio, who logged nearly 1,200 minutes this season, plugging in at center back, both full back spots and even as a defensive midfielder. FDC also chipped in two goals for good measure. She's not the most heralded member of the squad, but her contributions are immeasurable.
Room for Improvement
As with most critiques of this team, they must be taken in context with their standing relative to the top three clubs in the league; they're a cut above the mid-table teams but a step behind the true heavyweights in the league. However, given the amount of rotation Bavagnoli employed in her back line, particularly at right back, holding a +13 goal differential is pretty impressive.
However, when we stack that up against the top sides in the league, it's a pretty steep drop. Juve maintained a +55 goal differential (allowing only eight goals in league play), Fiorentina a +57! and AC Milan finished with a +33 mark. So, as you can see, Roma's defense was good, but they weren't quite as impregnable as the elite teams in the league.
How exactly they'll go about improving that record depends largely upon who will be back next year. Bartoli is a given, but beyond the captain, it's anyone's guess. Lipman was a rock but her playing time fell off once Allyson Swaby came aboard, and the two seldom played alongside one another, while Bavagnoli used no fewer than four players at the right back spot.
Continuity will certainly go a long way to improving this defense, but Roma can certainly do with some reinforcements as the in-house options (namely Camilla Labate and Heden Corrado) are talented but still incredibly young.
Final Marks: B +
All things considered, once the season got rolling Roma's defense was cohesive and well organized, while the attacking contributions from Bartoli, Di Criscio and Lipman gave the offense a bit of an added punch. With another year under their belt and a few more veterans sprinkled in, they have every chance to be a defensive powerhouse.
If defense remains the hallmark of Italian football, Roma are in good shape.