Last week's 3-2 loss to AC Milan was perhaps the most crushing defeat in Roma's season-and-a-half in Serie A Femminile. After rushing out to a 2-0 lead thanks to a pair of goals from Lindsey Thomas, her sixth and seventh strikes of the season, Roma held their longest-ever lead against the Rossonere, nearly 50 minutes. More than that, Roma did a bang-up job of blunting Valentina Giacinti and the rest of the Milan attack and seemed set to cruise to their first ever victory over Milan, one that would have practically put them in the driver's seat for second place.
A victory over Milan last weekend would have set up a six-pointer against Sunday's opponents, Fiorentina, with the winner claiming second-place all their own. However, thanks to a horrific collapse late in the second half, Roma conceded three goals in the final 20 minutes of the match in Milan, limping off the pitch in a 3-2 defeat.
Roma vs. Fiorentina; January 26th. 12:30 CET/6:30 EST. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
A decisive victory over Milan would have strengthened Roma's chances of securing Champions League football next season while also signalling to the rest of the top four that they won’t wilt in big matches. Granted, there was a controversial missed handball call among Milan's three goals, but given how great Roma were playing to that point and what was at stake, both psychologically and on the table, this was arguably the worst defeat the club has seen in their 18 months of existence.
And if you were following our ranting on Twitter last weekend, then you probably recall how terribly we took this defeat—we were gutted. Fortunately for us, club captain Elisa Bartoli has a more level head. Earlier this week, she spoke on the disappointment of the Milan match:
Against Milan we were able to get two goals ahead and we were playing well – but unfortunately in the final 20 minutes we dropped a bit deep, we started to suffer physically and we weren’t able to keep the ball
We conceded the first goal in a situation where the referee could have done better, and then we lost our heads a bit and conceded another two.
There’s definitely a lot of regret and anger after that, but we have to analyse the mistakes we made. We can’t allow ourselves to remain disillusioned though – there’s another important game on Sunday, and we have to bounce back.
It's hard to understate just how important that Milan match was, but Bartoli is spot on: Roma have to press on because they have another critical match tomorrow against Fiorentina.
Unlike their performances against Milan and Juventus, Roma have played the Viola quite well during their brief existence, drawing two matches, losing one and scoring an upset victory this past September when they shocked Fiorentina with a 2-0 victory in Firenze.
Bartoli, a former Viola member herself, spoke on the her relationship with Sunday's opponents and the subtle differences between the two clubs:
I consider Fiorentina a great side. In my opinion, maybe there are a bit more ready than us to finish in the top two because they have been together as a group for so long. But we will play our way; we’ve picked up a few good results against them so we will go out there and do our best to make up for the loss in our last game.
Playing against Fiorentina is always an emotional occasion for me – to be honest I don’t really enjoy it, because I have so many happy memories from my time there...But Roma is in my heart, it’s my city. The week before the game is always a bit stressful, but it’s also always nice to see my old teammates.
I expect to see an aggressive side [the rest of this season], a side that isn’t afraid to show exactly what it is made of...We have so much potential, there are so many good young players and I hope they really begin to understand what they can achieve – that we can really make a leap and produce something special in the league or in the cup, that we can be right up there and that Roma can really dream.
I didn't intend on lifting her entire quote from the official site, but she captured the gravity of this match and the mood in the room perfectly. Last week's defeat, while incredibly deflating, doesn't erase the progress Roma has made over the past year, nor does it mean they're suddenly less capable. Roma do have the talent to dream big, but collapses like last week can quickly turn those dreams into waking nightmares.
Bavagnoli cited her club's backing off in the second half as the key to their demise, so it will be interesting to see how she approaches this match. Roma dominated the first half against Milan, in part, because they were direct and aggressive; the Rossonere had no answer for Lindsey Thomas’ speed and agility, but they seemingly took their foot off the gas around the hour mark and what moves they did make in attack, usually speculative kick and run balls towards Agnese Bonfantini and Annamaria Serturini, didn't produce any chances and offered little semblance of cohesion; the wide players were simply too far removed to take part in any broader team moves.
By her own admission, Bavagnoli has struggled to get 90 consistent minutes of out her squad lately, but she has pulled out some magnificent 45 to 60 minute stretches from her players, ones in which the Giallorosse looked like legitimate title contenders. So, whether she makes wholesale lineup changes from the jump or simply adjusts her rotation patterns to ensure greater energy in the final quarter hour, Bavagnoli has to solve this riddle.
As this match is being broadcast on Sky, Roma will not be simulcasting via Twitter. But where there is a will, there is a way, right?