As we mentioned in our midseason review, and repeated during our Q&A series with our Milan colleagues, Roma's success this season and beyond will likely rise and fall with their record against the rest of the top four: Juventus, Fiorentina and today's opponents, AC Milan. Roma weren't done any favors by the schedule makers when they opened their new season against the Rossonere back in round one, but they hung with their more glamorous opponents for two-thirds of that match before falling prey to Valentina Giacinti late in the second half.
It was a sign of progress for Betty Bavagnoli's side, who have never defeated nor taken points off Milan, but it was nevertheless a loss. The Giallorosse have rebounded quite well since then, pushing well past their points pace from this point last season, and with Fiorentina and Juventus winning this weekend, Roma will need these points to stay on the Viola's heels.
Milan, for a variety of reasons, are stumbling into this round 12 match, dropping points in three of their past five matches, a stretch that featured defeats to Florentia and Empoli. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they're ripe for the plucking.
A point Bavagnoli addressed late in the week:
We are facing a very strong side, a side whose ability everyone has recognised since the start of last season. They have great players and a top coach and it won’t be easy, but I see my side and my girls and I think they are growing and developing in an interesting way. I’m expecting an even game, one in which we’ll do everything we can to bring home a result.
We’ve never won against Milan but we’ve never been badly beaten, so I’m confident we can do well this time.
I'm not one for moral victories, but Bavagnoli's assertion is correct; it's not as if Milan has waxed the floor with Roma in their prior encounters, they just haven't been able to put in a full and complete 90 minute effort against their northern neighbors so far.
Vanessa Bernauer, who we pegged for sideline fodder this summer given Roma's reinforcements in the midfield, has really come on as of late and has emerged as one of the club's more vocal leaders.
The Swiss international spoke of Roma's confidence ahead of this match:
Milan are a tough side that so far we haven’t been able to beat. It’s time to change that; if we want to reach our targets and finish as high as possible then we have to beat teams like Milan as well. The hard work we’ve been putting in during training, along with the performance we put in against Bari, has helped our confidence – so let’s see what happens this time
Bernauer went on to cite Roma's (at times) poor finishing as a culprit in their struggles against Milan, but it's the point she made about the manner in which matches like these line up with their broader targets that matters most.
For certain, today's match against Milan has practical implications for Roma, but a rousing victory against Milan, and on the road no less, would be a tremendous signal of progress for Roma. The Giallorosse can run with the best of them, they can score in bunches and their defense has been among the stingiest in the league so far, but it hasn't helped them cross that final hurdle; it hasn't made them truly elite...yet.
A victory against Milan today, and god willing a positive result against Juve next week, would completely up end the top of the table. Roma have been laying the groundwork for the past 18 months, but if they want to enjoy the fruits of their labor, moral victories won't suffice.
Look for Bavagnoli to ride the hot hands of Manuela Giugliano and Andressa today, two players who provide exactly what Milan lacks—creativity. It'll be a close match, but if Lindsey Thomas, Agnese Bonfantini or Annamaria Serturini can get on the end of a through ball or two, Roma can make quick work of Milan.