With fewer teams in its ranks, the Serie A Femminile schedule was always bound to be different from its male counterpart, but that still doesn't explain the frequent stopping and starting the league endures on a fairly regular basis. We've already seen several two-week stoppages this season (after rounds 2, 4, & 5) which actually forced Roma to schedule a friendly against the Venezuelan National Team to keep sharp in the meantime, but those fortnight respites pale in comparison to the league's winter break, which was nearly a month long.
Roma's Round 11 fixture against 10th place Bari is their first competitive match since December 14th, when the Giallorosse knocked back Orobica in a 6-0 thrashing. With braces from Andrine Hegerberg and Annamaria Serturini, Roma turned in their most dominant performance of the season.
Bari vs. Roma: January 11th. 12:00 CET/6:00 EST. Stadio Antonacci, Bitetto.
So, while it was nice to end 2019 on a high-note, erasing nearly 30 days of rust will be a daunting task for all 12 clubs this weekend. I'm sure there are some unseen logistical issues to which I am not privy, but surely they can start the season a bit later or end it earlier to avoid such delays.
Soapbox over. Onto the match...
Fortunately for Roma, familiarity should help ease their transition back into live action. Betty Bavagnoli's crew kicked off their 2020 Coppa Italia campaign against this same Bari side on December 11th.
In a match reminiscent of the men's frustrating defeat to Torino last weekend, the Giallorosse peppered Bari with shot after shot through 90 minutes, as Andressa, Vanessa Bernauer and Lindsey Thomas each nearly broke the scoreless deadlock in normal time, but either struck the woodwork or were denied by the keeper.
Since this was a knockout match, Roma needed an additional 30 minutes to win the day, but thanks to Andressa's 101st minute left-footed goal, the Giallorosse sealed the deal and even added one more for good measure in the 117th minute when Hegerberg scored an audacious leaping back-heeled goal in the box. Highlights can be seen here.
Certainly harder than they probably expected, but Roma's tactical depth (and depth of character) were on full display that afternoon, both of which have Bavagnoli confident ahead of tomorrow's kick-off:
The girls are looking sharp despite the length of the break, now we’re back in action and we’re hoping to start well.
I’m expecting a tough game against Pink Bari – just as hard as it was against them in the Coppa Italia. We have prepared well, it should be a good game played with courage and determination.
We want to come home with the three points and put on a show too.
With 14 goals scored over their past four matches (all comps), Roma are certainly capable of putting on a show, but, as the Coppa match proved, not every opponent is willing to be an extra in Roma's theatrical displays.
Despite going 120 minutes against Bari, that match could have been markedly different. A few inches here or a couple of milliseconds there and Roma could have walked away three or four-nil winners in regular time. With that in mind, I would expect Bavagnoli to roll out a similar starting XI, riding the hot hands of Andressa, Hegerberg, Serturini and Lindsey Thomas, who teamed up to score 11 of the club's 14 goals in December.
The interesting question will be at the back, where the recently signed Petronella Ekroth adds an intriguing wrinkle to Bavagnoli's defense. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't expect a new signing to debut some 72 hours after joining the club, but at 30-years-old and with a decade of experience under her belt (including last year with Juventus, for whom she scored two goals in a dozen appearances), Ekroth isn't your usual mid-season roster filler.
It makes sense that Ekroth was given the #2 shirt, because with her height and ability on the ball, she should mimic the position and role of last season's #2, Emma Lipman. I'm not sure if she'll start this match, but Ekroth will play a huge role down the stretch, likely teaming up with Allyson Swaby in central defense.
Juventus have carved out a six-point lead at the top of the table, but the battle between Roma, Milan and Fiorentina for second place (the league's final Champions League spot) remains as intense as ever, as only two points separate the three sides.
Milan, who actually have a game in hand, and Fiorentina each face lowly opponents this weekend, so Roma better take care of business against Bari. Doing so would set up a crucial six-pointer next week when Roma travel to Milan.
With a tough fixture list coming up, Roma are getting hot at the right moment. So, taking three points tomorrow and wowing the masses?
Yeah, that sounds like a good way to start the new year.