With 11 matches in the books, we're at the official halfway point of the 2019-2020 Serie A Femminile season. For the most part things have shaken out as expected: Juventus are at the top with Roma, Fiorentina and AC Milan duking it out for second place. While a six point lead at the top isn't insurmountable, odds are Juve wins their third straight title come spring, but the margins between the remaining three clubs is razor thin, as only five points separate second place Fiorentina from fourth place Milan.
As we mentioned in our mid-season review, if Roma want to qualify for the Champions League next season, there is no way around it—they must defeat Fiorentina and Milan in the second half of the fixture list. And, as luck would have it, those are their next two opponents.
First up on Roma's quest for second place are the Rossonere, the league's fourth place side. Milan narrowly missed grabbing a Champions League spot of their own last season, finishing four points behind Fiorentina, and experienced their fair share of turnover this summer, losing their manager Carolina Morace and all-world midfielder Manuela Giugliano.
This is a massive match for both clubs, so to get some insight into Milan (and the league as whole) we reached out to Steph at our sister site, The AC Milan Offside.
Milan seems to have lost a step over the past few rounds, losing two of their past four, so what gives? How does a title contender suddenly find themselves mired in fourth?
Steph: Well, technically speaking, it’s because the game against Pink Bari was postponed due to adverse weather (stifling fog). [Sidenote: The game has been rescheduled for January 29th at 12:00 PM CEST.]
In addition to this, physical fitness is an issue. The team looks gassed, and we’re not even midway through the season yet. Someone needs to seriously work on this. Also, Milan is repeating their patterns from last season, where they stepped it up against the Big Teams, but dropped points against the ‘smaller’ ones.
In that sense, they can be seen as a ‘classically’ Italian team. What I mean by that is: in the same way the Italian national team will tie the likes of Haiti in a friendly, or lose to Ireland in the Euros, they’ll also find a way to beat the likes of Belgium and Germany in a tournament. In that sense, the Milan women are kind of the same way. They’ll tie or even beat teams like Juventus, Fiorentina and Inter, but will drop points against the likes of Florentia.
In the end, Milan paid for it, as it cost them a spot in last season’s Champions League.
I guess old habits die hard, as they’re continuing the same pattern during this current season, and it’s going to take a while for them to unlearn this. One would hope, though, that these mistakes won’t hurt them too much, and that they will actually finish in the top two this year.
This may be related to the prior question, but Valentina Giacinti is WAY off her normal scoring rate, what’s the source of her struggles so far and what can Milan to do get her back on pace?
Steph: Lack of service from the midfield is an issue. After the departures of the core of Milan’s midfield last year, including Manuela Giugliano, Milan had to work diligently to replace all of the players they’ve lost. Though Elisabet Spina (who is in charge of the women’s division) has tried her best to replace all of the players who have left, the current midfield just doesn’t compare to the one we had last season.
Milan is missing at least one midfielder with good, solid, technical abilities. Specifically, we are missing one, good playmaker who can provide the type of service that Giacinti needs. Giacinti is the type of player who can lose her marker and make several runs behind the defense. However, her runs are for naught if she isn’t given the proper service. Football is a team sport, and she needs help from the players around her to score.
Also, Maurizio Ganz has been fancying himself a tinker man of sorts and has played Valentina in a more central and advanced role. That has again, in turn, left her isolated and she’s not getting the proper service she needs in order to score said goals.
There might also be a psychological issue with her here, as she’s having to deal with the pressure that comes with being Milan’s captain. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and that might be getting to her a little too. Hopefully she can overcome this mental block and get back to becoming the free scoring Valentina that we know.
Giacinti grabs most of the headlines for Milan, but give us two or three other names we should be aware of prior to Monday’s match.
Steph: Just three?! But … there’s so many to choose from!
Off the top of my head: Laura Fusetti, our starting centre-back and Italy international, who also happens to be the only player in Italy who can successfully replace Sara Gama when she’s injured; Linda Tucceri Cimini, our left-back who is an excellent crosser of the ball; and Francesca Vitale, the fan favorite defender who was turned into a makeshift right-back this season. She’s also been doing quite well in that role, I might add.
Honorable mention to Miriam Longo, our brightest prospect. She’s been a spark plug of life every time she’s played on the pitch. She’s one to watch out for in the future.
Since arriving in the league last season, Roma has yet to defeat Milan, so indulge us: How do you see this one playing out, and what scares you about Roma most?
Steph: Truth be told, I see it being a cagey affair. If there are any goals, they will most likely come in the second half. The game will most likely be a textbook example of ‘unstoppable force’ vs ‘immovable object’.
What worries me the most about Roma is their attack. Roma’s attack is fluid and dynamic, and they have a pretty powerful arsenal to rely upon. I mean, Bonfantini, Serturini, Andressa … the team has so many options to choose from. Heck, they can even leave Giada Greggi on the bench and not suffer.
However, Milan has two slight advantages over Roma, chiefly in the form of experience, and a rock solid defense featuring two of the best defenders in the country. If we are to win this game, then it will be by utilizing our advantages to the fullest extent.
Let’s broaden the scope. Are we in danger of seeing Juventus dominate the league year after year like they do in the men’s league? What can be done to stop them?
Steph: I must first of all say that, in a weird way, Serie A’s lack of professionalism creates a parity of sorts for the league. Meaning? With the salary limits in place, it means that no team can just outspend the other (well, at least not in theory).
The budgets for the three biggest teams in the country (Juve, Fiorentina and Milan) are all roughly the same, which is around €800,000 per annum. With this in mind, it means they’ll have to attract players in other ways.
Juventus is very well run project, and they have the clout, too. That makes them an attractive destination for players. The only way the rest of Serie A will be able to compete, is if they step it up and create their own well-managed projects, and become attractive destinations for both players and fans.
Currently, there are a lot of questions surrounding the project for the Milan women, with the main one being if they even have one to begin with. It was something that Carolina Morace (Milan’s former coach) spoke about before she left, and I think the mystery still remains unsolved.
My hope is that we will get the answers to whether or not Milan will have a solid plan in place for their women, and how they will foster their growth, in the near future. Until that happens however, expect Juve to remain dominant.
At the very least, Italy is taking steps to modernize its approach to women’s football, do you foresee a day in the near future when Italy becomes a haven for the top players in the world?
Steph: I hope so. I dream of Serie A Femminile replicating what the men’s Serie A did in the 1990s, however far-fetched and distant the dream may be. The first step of course, is to allow the league to become professional. It is my understanding that they are currently working on it, and I’ve also heard from some very reliable sources that the FIGC will most likely allow this to happen. Once that happens, we can think about raising the salary cap and introducing a minimum salary limit, along with sponsorship, more visibility, and all the things the league will need to thrive.
I think the sentimental attachment that many of the fans have formed for teams and the players, both in Italy and abroad, will also help the league grow, as many people want to see their favorite teams and players do well. Once all of those things in place, then it will create all of the necessary conditions for Serie A to become one of the best leagues in the world. I really hope it happens someday.
Lastly, give us a prediction for Monday.
Steph: I don’t really like to make predictions (mainly because they never turn out to be right!) So I’ll just say that I hope Milan wins by one or two goals.
Huge thanks to Steph for her insight on this match; you won't find many people more knowledgeable about the league than her.
Look for our preview/game thread shortly.