New seasons are always filled with anticipation, but given everything they achieved in their first season, not to mention their stellar summer campaign, the wait for Roma's second season in Serie A Femminile seemed interminable. And one look at the people queuing up outside the Tre Fontane pre-match proves that I wasn't the only one anxiously waiting kickoff between Roma and AC Milan, last season's third-place squad. Roma drew over 2,000 fans to the Tre Fontane this afternoon, setting a new club attendance record.
Roma head coach Betty Bavagnoli made full use of her new signings this afternoon, starting several new faces from the word go.
I was expecting Manuel Giugliano and Kaja Erzen to start from the jump, but Bavagnoli wasted no time shaking things up, giving debuts to five of her eight new signings right from kick off. While the opening moments of the match were a bit nervy from both clubs, the difference in Roma's pure athleticism was glaring—Erzen, Thestrup, Andressa and Hegerberg each add stature, speed and power to a Roma lineup that was (at times) missing those key traits last season.
Unfortunately that new found physicality didn't produce much on the pitch in the first half, a problem they shared equally with Milan. The first 45 minutes of this match weren't exactly a ringing endorsement for the sport, as neither side could string together more than two passes, instead relying on a kick and run approach, one exacerbated by the incredibly fast pitch at Tre Fontane, which seemed to add another meter to every pass.
With so many changes in midfield for Roma, their inability to play through the middle was incredibly frustrating; rather than pinging passes between Giguliano and Bernauer, Roma's only resort was to hoof it up the flanks towards Andressa or Annamaria Serturini. Needless to say, it was an approach that did not work as the ball either picked up additional speed from the dry surface or the Milan defense was able to body Roma off the ball.
At the other end of the pitch, Roma's defense did a remarkable job bullying and denying effective space to Milan's Valentinas: Gacinti and Bergamaschi, respectively. While she's not the fastest defender in the game, Allyson Swaby did a masterful job keeping Giacinti out of the area in the first half, dominating the capocannoniere in the final third, while Roma's other centerback, Federica Di Criscio, cleaned up whatever mess Swaby couldn't handle—it was impressive and stifling work from Roma's central pairing.
Roma would come alive early in the second half, looking more coherent and dangerous in the opening 10 minutes or so, and nearly broke open the match when Manuela Giugliano struck a free kick from 20 yards out. But, much like we saw with the men against Lazio, Giugliano's beautifully weighted and bent free kick hit the crossbar.
Roma would follow that up with two quick corners, each of which produced a scrum in the area that nearly crept into the back of the net only to fall harmlessly into the keeper's arms.
And that, unfortunately, would be the last good news Roma would receive. Bavagnoli would bring on three second half subs—Giada Greggi, Lindsey Thomas and Agnese Bonfatini—but the Giallorosse couldn't break the Milan back line, and thanks to a momentary lapse of judgement, forfeited the lead around the hour mark as Milan caught Roma napping at the back post on a looping cross from Bergamaschi.
Then the wheels really came off, as Valentina Giacinti finally got involved in the match, setting up and scoring a goal late in the second half, dooming Roma to a disappointing 3-0 loss.
What Went Right
Despite the lopsided scoreline, you have to be impressed with Roma's defensive work through two-thirds of this match. As we mentioned in the buildup, the biggest threat in this match was Giacinti sneaking into the area, and thanks to Swaby's physical presence and Di Criscio's anticipation they were able to frustrate Giacinti throughout much of this match. Angelica Soffia, filling in for Bartoli, did an admirable job replicating the captains role on the pitch as well.
In the middle of the pitch, Andrine Hegerberg was as advertised: a relentless possession machine. Roma's newest Norwegian racked up the kilometers today, winning possession deep in the defensive third and retaining the ball in the middle third of the pitch. Hegerberg's energy and close control were quite impressive today.
What Went Wrong
Despite Hegerberg's work rate and Giugliano's near goal, Roma's midfield was devoid of creativity today; there was simply no spark going through the middle of the pitch, and as a result Roma’s attack was virtually non-existent. Giugliano was seated too deep in the pitch to really effect the action, while Vanessa Bernauer was simply too passive and too slow to break through the Milan midfield. Bavagnoli has to either rethink their roles or shakeup the actual lineup to fix this problem against Fiorentina next time out—Roma cannot live on the long ball alone, and today was proof positive of that fact.
This was probably the worst case scenario for this match, especially given the hype of the preseason. A 1-0 loss could have been explained away and rationalized as a would-be draw were it not for the crossbar, but Roma's collapse late in the match was really deflating.
They cannot suffer a repeat of this performance on Saturday when they travel to Fiorentina, and if the do, all their grand objectives may already be lost. Taking six points from their first two matches was probably always a tall order, but grabbing a win in Firenze would erase the stink of this loss real quick.