When Roma first unveiled their roster for their inaugural season last summer, there were a lot of young and unfamiliar faces sprinkled throughout that list. Despite the lack of years, the defense was safe in the hands of Elisa Bartoli, a champion, Roman and frequent Azzurre figure, while the midfield was steadied by the veteran presence of Vanessa Bernauer, who had spent the prior four seasons playing for Wolfsburg, winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2016 and 2017.
So while the team itself was young, the spine was well protected by wily and talented veterans. The same could not be said for the attack, which was kitted out entirely with players 25 and younger. However, that youth belied a well-spring of experience and, as we saw once the club got rolling, some exceptional talent.
Roma had a couple dry spells this season, but thanks to the likes of Annamaria Serturini, Martina Piemonte and Agnese Bonfantini, the Giallorosse are a potential powder-keg waiting to explode on Serie A.
So, join me as we wrap up our positional review of Roma's inaugural season with what might be the most exciting component of an already exciting club.
Style of Play
As we mentioned during our look at the midfield, Betty Bavagnoli ran with your standard 4-3-3 formation for much of the season, one that, like her former colleague across the aisle, looked unstoppable when hitting on all cylinders yet was stymied by lack of movement and creativity during the down-cycles that bookended their debut season.
While Bavagnoli did a fair bit of rotating at the center forward spot, spinning the Lazy Susan to alternatively grab Martina Piemonte, Luisa Pugnali and Maria Zecca, the wide spots were the domain of Serturini and Bonfantini, who logged a combined 3,500 minutes this season.
At their best, Roma's frontline worked in tandem with the midfield, creating tidy passing networks in the final third, switching play effortlessly between the wings and Piemonte at the point to keep defenses off kilter. With Piemonte holding up play in the middle, Bonfantini and Serturini were free to run into space, getting on the end of through balls or ceding space on the wings for the fullbacks to join the fray.
When coupled with Bonfantini's blazing runs and creativity down the right wing and Serturini's clever and incisive cut-ins from the left, Roma's attack could hit you from every conceivable angle. They could work triangles with the best of them, they could out run you, out muscle you, and make you look just down right foolish.
We already dedicated an entire piece to the importance of Agnese Bonfantini, but allow me to offer an abridged version in case you missed it. Through her 21 appearances this season, Bonfantini looked like a prototypical 21st century winger; strong, pacy, creative and capable of flipping a match on its head. So, instead of going down that well again, let's shower some praise on the club's leading scorer.
At all of 20-years-old, Annamaria Serturini is perhaps the club's most accomplished player (save for Bartoli), having a Scudetto, two Coppa Italias and three Supercoppa Italias all before she could legally buy a drink in America—is 21 still a big deal in Europe?
I digress. While Serturini was a part of all those triumphs, she was a bit player, never logging more than 600 minutes in any domestic season until the 2017-2018 season with Brescia, when she garnered 2,000 minutes on the pitch, scoring four goals along the way.
Not a bad return from a teenager by any estimation, but this year her game took a huge step forward.
In 1,800 minutes, Serturini nearly tripled her goal output from last season, banging home 11 goals to lead the club and finish sixth in the league. Penalties, running onto through balls and golazos, Serturini did it all this season for Roma:
As you can see from that clip, Serturini is absolutely deadly cutting in from the left. She's not the paciest player on the squad, but she's remarkably adept at using jab steps and slight body feints to keep her opponents off balance, and her shot...oof (insert Antonio Banderas reaction gif)...her shot is CLINICAL. You get the feeling that Serturini could probably win any training ground accuracy competition, but as you can see from that first goal, she can straight rip it when she needs to.
The cherry on top of Serturini's breakout season was her first handful of Italy caps, an honor she earned back in January. She even notched her first international goal in Italy's 3-0 win over Hungary in the Cyprus Cup back in early March.
Serturini is definitely a star on the rise for club and country, and now that she's been named to the provisional roster she stands a decent chance at making the trip to France this summer for the World Cup.
Room for Improvement
The Giallorosse's 43 goals forced were the league's fourth best mark but trailed the next best club by 11. Like so many of the criticisms we throw their way, they're best taken in the context of their pursuit of the league's elite; Roma's attack was fine this season, but they weren't unimpeachable.
While they were certainly complicit in the late season swoon, if we're forced to narrow it down to one single point of improvement, it's this: a lack of a second option.
Serturini's 11 league goals constituted 26% of the club's haul. While that's great for Serturini and speaks to her talent and effectiveness, it's not exactly a formula for sustained success. Roma's next leading goal scorer, Flaminia Simonetti, was a utility player pressed into full-time service thanks to injury (no disrespect intended whatsoever, she's a hell of a player), while their third-leading scorer was Bartoli, a full-back.
I have full confidence that if Bonfantini is brought back, she and Serturini could team up for 18 to 20 goals next season, but the lack of production from the point of attack—e.g. center forward—was glaring all season long, and, at times, allowed defenses to remove those talented wingers from the equation.
Between Piemonte, Zecca and Pugnali, the club's three nominal strikers, Roma only received seven league goals in some 2,400 minutes; that just won't cut it. Piemonte's goal scoring drought was particularly troubling, as she scored 29 goals across her three prior seasons in Italy.
So, if we're looking for one spot of bother, there you have it. Whether it's banking on Piemonte finding her form, or perhaps looking to the transfer market, Roma simply has to lighten Serturini's scoring load with a capable and effective center forward.
Final Marks: A-
Roma's attack was, at times, simply breathtaking, beating opponents with brains, brawn, and guile. However, with 26% of the goals coming from one player, and only 11 additional goals from forwards thereafter, Roma simply needs some added depth to really push these marks over the top.
Make no mistake, however. All the pieces are there, and if Piemonte, Serturini and Bonfantini can develop alongside one another, the future is theirs.