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Mid-Season Review: Roma Inching Towards Elite Status

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With seven more points at this stage than a year ago, things are looking up for Betty Bavagnoli and the Giallorosse.

AS Roma v AC Milan - Serie A Women’s Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Now that we're halfway through Roma's second season in Serie A Femminile, I feel like we can dispatch with our usual preambles, but for the last time let me just say this: This club has existed for only 18 months or so, and during that time they managed a top four finish in their first year, they wrangled their own sponsors independent of the men's club, they sent three players to the 2019 World Cup, Betty Bavagnoli was named coach of the year, they signed the eventual 2019 Italian Player of the Year (Manuela Giugliano), they developed the best U-21 talent in Italy (Giada Greggi) and brought in several experienced players from over seas, and as we sit at the dawn of 2020 the club is within shouting distance of the Champions League.

By nearly any measure, Roma's first foray into women's football has been a rousing success, but now that we're halfway through their second season, it's time to focus on the present, so let's take a look at the highs, lows and in-betweens for Roma's first 11 matches of the 2019-2020 season.

The Highs: The New Signings

‘Oscar Del Calcio AIC’ Italian Football Awards Photo by Andrea Diodato/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With transfer rumors (reputable or otherwise) few and far between, the women's transfer market in Italy remains shrouded in mystery. There is no incessant tracking of rumors from root to stem, no half-assed denials from agents and, sadly, no airport scarf photos, but that didn't stop Roma from doing some impressive business this summer.

Under the guidance of Massimo Tarantino, the Giallorosse signed eleven new players over the summer, twelve now that Petronella Ekroth was added to the mix last week. Roma made the splashy signings (Giugliano and Andressa Alves fresh off the World Cup), the impressive veterans from abroad (Lindsey Thomas, Amalie Thestrup, Kaja Erzen, and Andrine Hegerberg) and even continued to add to their U-23 riches (Tecla Pettenuzzo, Camelia Ceasar, Emma Severini, Alice Corelli).

However, as we're all too well aware given our experience with Monchi, quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality. Fortunately for the Giallorosse, most of these new signings have hit the ground running.

While last season's forwards, Martina Piemonte and Luisa Pugnali, had stature and strength for days, Thomas and Thestrup have given Bavagnoli's front-line the pace, punch and ability to interchange and overlap it was missing last season. What's more, they've been productive, punching in seven goals combined through the first half of the season. Piemonte's holdup play is still missed, but the attack as a whole is more dynamic thanks to Thomas and Thestrup.

Giguliano and Andressa have brought a similar dynamic to the midfield, adding further depth to Roma's strongest position last season. Andressa was a bit player the first few weeks, but she began to show her true worth as fall gave way to winter, working as sort of free-range attacker, while Giugliano has been as advertised—fucking magnificent.

And at the back, Telca Pettenuzzo has garnered far more playing time than we imagined in August, showing poise and touch that belies her 19 years, while Camelia Ceasar is tied with Juve's Laura Giuliani for the league lead in clean-sheets.

Any way you slice it, Roma did a bang-up job upgrading the squad for their second season in Serie A, and the new signings have played a pivotal role in Roma’s improvement this year, putting Roma seven points ahead of last season's midway pace.

The Lows: Roma's Record Against Juve & Milan

AS Roma v AC Milan - Serie A Women’s Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Their 2-1 defeat to Florentia in mid-November notwithstanding, Roma have beaten every club who they're “supposed” to beat, dispatching the likes of Orobica, Empoli and Bari by decisive margins. Hell, Roma even scored an upset victory over Fiorentina in week two, defeat last season's runners up 2-1 on the road.

Given how things have played out since then, we can safely say that Roma and Fiorentina on level pegging (though the Viola have a slim one-point advantage) but the Giallorosse are continually left wanting when they face AC Milan or Juventus.

After 11 rounds of play, Juve are comfortably in first place, holding a six point lead over second place Fiorentina. Milan, however, have slipped a bit and actually sit four points behind Roma, though they hold a game in hand and figure to be neck and neck with Roma and Fiorentina down the stretch.

As we've mentioned throughout the season, given the lack of real parity in the league, the race at the top should be excruciatingly close down the stretch, just as it was last season when the top three sides were separated by a mere five points. Given that virtually non-existent margin for error, the Scudetto and the league's two Champions League places will likely be decided by which of the four heavyweights (Juventus, Fiorentina, Roma and Milan) has the best record against the other three clubs.

While Roma defeated Fiorentina on the road, they lost to Milan in round one 3-0 and fell to Juventus 4-0 in round seven. Roma hung with Milan for about 70 minutes in that first match before the wheels came off, while they were defeated soundly by Juventus after only 30 minutes. Signs of progress for sure, but the distance remains.

If Betty Bavagnoli wants to lift her club to the Champions League, those performances just won't cut it. Looking back at Roma's fixtures against Milan and Juventus over the past season-and-a-half, a pattern emerges: Roma has held only one lead in six total matches...for all of seven minutes against Milan in December 2018.

So, if Roma wish to escape their third/fourth place purgatory, the answer is simple: they need to be aggressive early in the match. With a taller, stronger and faster squad at their disposal, Roma has the tools to make this happen.

The In-Betweens: Bavagnoli's Rotation Pattern

AS Roma v Orobica Calcio Bergamo - Serie A Women’s Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With a deeper squad at her disposal this season, the shuffling and managing of minutes was always bound to challenge Betty Bavagnoli. Consider this: Roma has only four players over the age of 30, meaning Bavagnoli's roster is teeming with players at or near their prime, as well as several notable and talented U-21 talents itching to make their mark. Keeping everyone happy, engaged and match-fit is a monumental challenge.

It's a good problem to have, of course, and by and large she's done a solid job of keeping everyone ready, but her handling of Giada Greggi and (until recently) Andressa has been a bit frustrating.

While Andressa forced her way into the lineup and has hit the ground running the past several weeks, she was M.I.A. through the first third of the season, unable to crack the lineup as either a midfielder or forward. Considering her record with Barcelona the prior two years and the fact that she was a FIFPRO nominee, it was surprising to see her sitting on the sidelines in the season's early weeks—could she have made a difference in the early season defeats to Florentia or Juventus?

Andressa was always a safe bet to make her mark sooner or later, but Bavagnoli's handling of Giada Greggi has been continually frustrating. On the surface, Greggi's nine appearances make it seem like she's been a consistent contributor, but she's made only three starts, spending most of her season as a late second half sub, averaging only 28 minutes per substitute appearance.

Competing for space in midfield with Andrine Hegerberg, Manuela Giugliano, Vanessa Bernauer and even Andressa, Greggi's playing time was bound to drop somewhat, but she is a prodigious talent who played in all but one of the club's matches last season (and played quite well), so I hope she'll garner more significant minutes in the second half of the season.

These are minor points, and stem largely from our admiration of Greggi, but by and large Bavagnoli has done a solid job of rotating her squad, though we'd like to see a loan or, if possible, a two-way situation in which the likes of Heden Corrado and Emma Severini could shuttle back and forth between the senior and youth club.

Final Thoughts

With 24 points through 11 matches, Roma are well ahead of last year's midway pace and are only 12 points behind their total from the entire 2018-2019 season—things are definitely on the upswing. If the second half of the season follows suit, Roma will be neck and neck with Fiorentina and Milan for that second place spot. There are no two ways around it, they simply HAVE to take points off them in the second half.

Completing their second season in second place and securing a spot in the Champions League would be an enormous step for Roma. They have the talent, the leadership and the depth to make it happen, they just can't relent in the second half.