With a chance to pull within one point of second place Fiorentina and defeat AC Milan for the first time ever, today's Monday afternoon fixture in Milan was arguably Roma's biggest match of the season. In one fell swoop, Roma had a chance to upset the top of the table while also sending a message to the rest of the league. And for much of the match, it looked like mission accomplished.
In many ways, this match played out just as our conversation with our Milan colleagues suggested it would: Roma used the speed of Lindsey Thomas, Agnese Bonfantini and Annamaria Serturini to stretch and pull the Milan back-line, while Andrine Hegerberg (who came on in the 14th minute for an injured Manuela Giugliano), Vanessa Bernauer and Telca Pettenuzzo did well to cut off the supply line between Milan's midfield and their ace striker Valentina Giacinti.
After a rather choppy opening 15 minutes or so, Roma found the first breakthrough when Lindsey Thomas got on the end of an Andressa free kick. For Thomas it was her sixth strike of the year, and for Roma it as only the second time they've held a lead over Milan, one they would carry into the dressing room at half-time.
Thomas would strike once more in the 49th minute, scoring a cracking goal from 20 yards out, beating the keeper with a rocket towards the lower right hand corner. Roma not only held their lead against, they doubled it and looked like a safe bet to cruise to a two-nil victory. The Giallorosse weren't necessarily dominating possession, but through the first 50 minutes or so they were the faster and more aggressive side.
That, unfortunately, would not last.
Milan struck back in the 70th minute when Berglind Thorvaldsdottir scored a seemingly innocuous goal off a corner kick, one which, upon a closer inspection, looks kind of dodgy:
Okay, here's your smoking gun. The ref had pretty poor position as he was almost in line with Bonfantini and probably didn't have a clear line of sight at #10 pic.twitter.com/IVJ0B5o6A0— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) January 20, 2020
Granted, that’s just a freeze frame and without a reverse angle we can't really tell whether or not this was a genuine handball, but it looks awfully suspect. Still, at this point, with a one-goal lead and 20 minutes to play, Roma's lead seemed safe.
As it turns it out, it..uh...wasn't.
With Roma pressing deep into Milan territory in the 77th minute, the Rossoneri struck back on a three/four touch counter before Refiloe Jane caught Camelia Ceasar and the rest of Roma napping, playing a looping ball from 25 yards or so out on the right hand side.
Could have been cross, could have been a shot, but whatever it was, it fell right into the upper left-hand corner of the goal, leveling the match and taking the wind out of Roma's sails.
Still, with twelve minutes left to play, there was time for either side to grab a late winner, but with Roma unable to mount much of an offensive at that point, the match was once again decided via set-piece.
There's a lot going on in this one. For starters, Valentina Giacinti nearly won the match herself, only to see her effort carom off the cross bar, but then things got really interesting. Roma had a chance to escape danger off Giacinti's shot, but Telca Pettenuzzo's clearance went straight up in the air, falling right to Milan's massive #45, Pamela Begic, whose header whipped right across the face of the goal and was guided home by Thorvaldsdottir.
Chalk up a disastrous set-piece and it would look just like this. From Giacinti's clear shot at goal to Pettenuzzo's hasty clearance, to Begic's perfect header to the wide open space at the far post, this was a coach's nightmare.
The referee allotted five minutes of stoppage time, but the writing was on the wall—Roma squandered a golden opportunity. A victory today would have pulled Roma within one point of second place Fiorentina, with a chance to claim that place all their own when the two sides meet next week. However, as it stands now, Roma are four points behind the Viola in third place, while Milan's victory pulls them within one point of the Giallorosse, though Milan still has a game in hand, so that margin could soon disappear.
Final Thoughts & Post Match Comments
Roma was always in for a dogfight for second place, but blowing this two-goal lead means they effectively have to fight with one hand tied behind their back the rest of the way. A victory over Fiorentina next week is now mandatory, while they'll likely have to at least scrape a point off Juventus, hope Juve defeats Milan and Fiorentina, hope Milan and Fiorentina draw each other all while running the table against the lower sides of the league.
In essence, they have to be damn near perfect in their final 10 matches and receive some substantial help from Juventus along the way.
On today's loss, Bavagnoli didn't deflect any blame:
The goals we conceded aren’t down to bad luck. In the second half we showed the character required to push on, attack and score again - but then we started to back off and I had to make changes. We played well, we had the chance to bring home and we’re very disappointed with that - but we’ll try again.
Full-marks to Bavagnoli for not pulling any punches, but at this point it sure seems like Roma are going to be mired in third/fourth place purgatory, and while she doesn't make excuses, the time to question if she's the right person for this project might soon be upon us.
Midfielder Vanessa Bernauer echoed Bavagnoli's disappointment:
We’re really disappointed. We were dominating the game and then something changed. We need to work hard to avoid this happening again. We want to win against Fiorentina.
Disappointment doesn't begin to describe it. Roma are so close to being a legitimate title contender but, to date, they can't get over the Milan hurdle. They were the better side for much of the match, and as much as I'd like to say they proved they can hang with Milan, they still lost in heart-breaking fashion.
So, you tell me, where do we go from here?