Getting a second look at a team in quick succession, particularly one against whom you struggled, is always an interesting proposition: can you make the necessary changes to reverse your fortunes, or does that team well and truly have your number? Roma set out to solve this riddle against Bari today, a decidedly less talented side that still pushed them to extra time in their Coppa Italia match last month. In that match, Roma were stymied by the Bari defense through 90 minutes but were eventually able to find a break through past the 100 minute mark. It wasn't pretty but it wasn't exactly worrisome. It was...unexpected.
And with nearly a month on the sidelines, no one was quite sure how Roma would react. The scales were still decidedly tilted in their favor, but Bari did just enough to frustrate them last time out, and with the match once again in Puglia, Bari had the winds at their backs, so to speak.
As we guessed in our match preview, Betty Bavagnoli continued to play the hot hand, starting Andressa and Annamaria Serturini from the jump, while the starting eleven received an additional boost with the return of Italian Player of the Year Manuela Giguliano from injury. With the attack rounded out by Annamaria Serturini and Vanessa Bernauer, this was arguably the A-Team.
Bavagnoli was confident heading into this match, insisting that the month-long layoff didn't dull her sides senses, and with her side finding the back of the net in only the fifth minute, she was spot on. CdT favorite Agnese Bonfantini broke open the match after only 300 seconds, beating the Bari keeper on the far post from the right flank. It was an exceedingly slow, dribbling effort but it somehow trickled into the far post—props to Lindsey Thomas for not vulturing the goal, as she could have easily tapped it home herself.
Giugliano would follow that up five minutes later showcasing nearly her entire bag of skills. Starting deep in Roma territory, Giugliano and Elisa Bartoli worked a quick little give and go, advancing the ball up two-thirds of the pitch in the blink of an eye before threading it out wide to Thomas.
With Giugliano tracking the run in the middle of the pitch, she was in the perfect position to pounce on a loose ball, recovering and unleashing the shot in virtually one touch, burying it in the upper corner from at least 20-yards out, doubling Bari's misery in only the tenth minute.
And that was just the beginning. With Giugliano, Andressa and Bernauer splitting the Bari back-line with through ball after through ball, Bonfantini, Thomas and Serturini were free to run roughshod over Bari's over matched full-backs. This was really the perfect exposition of what Roma are capable of: precise passing from midfield meeting the unmatched speed and athleticism of Roma's wingers.
Roma very nearly pushed their advantage to three-nil on at least three occasions in the first half, as Thomas, Serturini and Andressa missed goals by mere inches.
The song remained the same in the second half, as the Giallorosse came out hunting for a third goal, sticking to practically an identical script: quick passes through the middle followed by even quicker diagonal outlets to Bonfantini, Serturini and Thomas.
Bavagnoli would make three changes in the second half, bringing on Amalie Thestrup, Andrine Hegerberg and Giada Greggi for Serturini, Andressa and Giugliano, respectively.
The match was well and done, but Roma finally got their third goal in the 72nd minute when Thomas got on the end of a cross from Thestrup to finish the match with a flourish.
In the end, Roma managed to correct the errors that tripped them up last time out, bringing a new level of efficiency and precision to their attack.
As we mentioned at the outset, Roma were always expected to win this match but given how tight Bari played them in the Coppa Italia last month, we simply couldn't take those three points for granted.
In the end, Roma did just what Bavagnoli hoped: grabbed three points while putting on a show. This match, perhaps more than any other, exemplified the Roma we all expected at the beginning of the season. With Giugliano and Andressa dictating the pace of play and Bonfantini, Serturini and Thomas running circles around Bari's defense, Roma were fast, aggressive and precise. And while Bari didn't mount much of a counter attack, Allyson Swaby and Tecla Pettenuzzo did well to bottle whatever pressure Roma experienced at the back, and Camelia Ceasar made two quick saves when called upon.
In sum, Roma dominated in all phases of this match: attack, transition and defense. It was simply an outstanding 90 minutes from the women in red.
The Serie A fixtures swing back around as Roma will face Milan on January 20th. No hyperbole here; this match could make or break Roma's Champions League hopes.