After a rather up and down start to the new season, Roma got back to their winning ways last weekend against Hellas Verona, defeating the Mastiffs in a 2-0 victory. With chances theirs for the taking, a disallowed goal and several near misses, the match wasn't as close as the scoreline suggested. But whether they won two-nil or six-nil, the fast, aggressive and clinical Roma that finished second in goals scored last season finally reappeared after a few frustrating matches in absentia.
Today's opponents, seventh place Inter Milan, were no pushovers, owing their spot on the table in part to a tough set of fixtures to begin the season. On the balance of things, Roma were the more complete and more dangerous side, possessing more speed in attack and better composure in defense than today's hosts.
With her squad more or less 100% fit (outside of Giada Greggi's season ending ACL injury), Betty Bavagnoli made a few subtle tweaks to her starting lineup. At the full-back spot, she paired captain Elisa Bartoli with Angelica Soffia, who seems to be slowly stealing the starting right-back spot from Slovenian international Kaja Erzen. Bavagnoli's midfield—Andressa, Andrine Hegerberg and Manuela Giugliano—remained unchanged while she swapped out Agnese Bonfantini for Lindsey Thomas at right wing.
Despite the overcast conditions and extremely spotty pitch, Roma kept a sunny disposition the first half, holding the majority of possession and keeping Inter out of any real attacking positions through the first 45. While Bavagnoli stuck to her traditional 4-3-3, when in possession it morphed to three, and sometimes only two, woman backline, with Bartoli and Soffia pushing well up the pitch, leaving either Tecla Pettenuzzo, Allyson Swaby or the deep-dropping Giugliano to jump start the attack.
And with the extra time and space to see the pitch, more often than not Pettenuzzo and Giugliano made the right play, quickly finding Andressa or Hegerberg through the middle. But, despite the ease with which they moved the ball up the pitch, there was very little by way of clear cut chances in the first half.
Thanks to some stout defensive work from Flaminia Simonetti and Martina Brustia in particular, Roma weren't able to match their midfield brilliance in the final third. With the direct route to goal shut off, Roma played a series of long balls over the top to Annamaria Serturini throughout the first half, hoping she could cut in to create some havoc, but thanks to Bustia's marking, Serturini was never really able to find space down the left.
And that was the story of the first half: Roma dominated possession through the first two-thirds of the pitch but simply couldn't find the space or the right ball in the end...until the very last second of stoppage time when Giugliano got loose down the right channel, quickly swinging a ball across to Serturini for an easy tap-in goal.
Considering the ease of their buildup, Roma deserved a goal, but even at the death Serturini's goal was a momentum shifter.
The second frame began just as the first one ended: with Roma dominating possession and using their speed down the flanks to keep Inter's backline under pressure. Indeed, Roma nearly found a second goal five minutes into the half when Giugliano played a short corner towards the right post catching Bartoli in stride, but the captain's header was miss-hit slightly and couldn't tuck it in the near post.
Despite that miss, Roma would have a golden opportunity to double their lead in the 50th minute when Paloma Lazaro had a free header in the middle of the box, but rather than rising up to the meet the ball, Lazaro remained flat-footed and tried to gently guide the ball home rather than removing all doubt and burying it past the keeper.
Roma would create another half chance moments later when Serturini played a one-time volley at the defense, scooped up her own rebound and flashed the ball just over the cross bar.
By this point in the match (just past the hour mark), Roma were putting their stamp on this one, winning nearly every individual duel and battles for space all over the pitch, but those two misses soon came home to roost as Gloria Marinelli scored minutes after coming on for Stefania Tarenzi.
Despite conceding an equalizer after coming so close to extending their lead, Roma kept their wits about them, sticking to the game plan and still managing to exploit space down the flanks. With her side desperately seeking a goal, Bavagnoli made her first change of the match, bringing on Agnese Bonfantini for Serturini in the 70th minute.
Roma and Inter would trade blows for the next 20 minutes, with each side seeking a match winner that would never come. Bonfantini nearly played the role of hero late in the match, dancing around a defender on the right flank before cutting in and seeing her shot deflected by a defender at the far post.
Despite the rather neutral tone to the second half, the match wouldn't end without controversy. In the 90th minute with Roma grasping at straws trying to wrest three points from this match, Elisa Bartoli seized upon a loose ball in the box, running at it from several yards away. When she finally got a touch on the ball she was clipped and knocked down in the box by Simonetti, and despite some vociferous objections from the Roma touchline, the referee didn't even bat an eye.
With three minutes of stoppage time, Roma continued to hunt for a match winner but the missed headers to start the second half ultimately fated them with this disappointing draw.
There's no way to take the stink off this one: Roma blew this match. They did everything correctly for large portions of this match but were once again done in by some poor finishing, particularly on Lazaro's free header. We're now three years into this project, and two with this particular squad, and it's fair to question whether or not they can live up to our high expectations. Missed chances, what ifs and yeah buts can only be stacked so high before we have to ask if Roma have the right parts to compete in this league.
As it stands right now, Roma are stuck in sixth place on eight points, trailing second place AC Milan, and Italy's final Champions League place, by four points. Roma get a bit of a reprieve next week when they face lowly San Marino, but in order to climb the table and claim that final European place the Giallorosse have to be damn near perfect for the remainder of the season.
That means no missed headers, no defensive lapses and no rash challenges in the area. This team has the talent to compete but with two plus seasons under their belt they haven't shown that killer instinct to put away matches against lesser clubs nor have they risen to the occasion against the league's top clubs.
If they want to reach the Champions League, to say nothing of winning Serie A, both of those must change.
Roma travel to San Marino on the 17th.