When we last left the women of Roma, the Giallorosse were walking off the pitch surprise losers in a bitter 2-0 defeat to Empoli. Betty Bavagnoli's side created and missed several clear cut chances that match but were ultimately done in by a rash challenge from Tecla Pettenuzzo, gifting Empoli one of two penalties that afternoon. It was no doubt the nadir to what has been an incredibly challenging start to the new season for Roma.
Seen as legitimate title contenders at the outset, Roma have struggled for consistency through three matches, drawing with Sassuolo in round one before beating lowly Pink Bari the following week. All told, Roma have an even 1-1-1 record with a perfectly even zero goal differential—so I guess they have been consistently average, if nothing else.
Roma vs. Hellas Verona: October 3rd. 12:30 CET/6:30 EDT. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
The key culprit to Roma's descent through three matches has been the complete and utter disappearance of their once vaunted attack. In last season's abbreviated campaign, Roma ran out to a +24 goal differential thanks to their 41 goals scored; the league's second best mark. Fueled by Andressa's playmaking, Lindsey Thomas’ intuitive runs in the final third and Agnese Bonfantini's explosive runs out wide, Roma's attack was practically unstoppable.
Blessed with tactical and personnel continuity their male counterparts could only dream of, Roma's offense was actually expected to improve this season, particularly with the addition of 27-year-old Spanish striker Paloma Lazaro, who made the switch from Fiorentina this summer. With two goals already—Roma's only in the run of play through three matches—and a healthy dosing of hold-up play, Lazaro has done her part, but with little by way of creativity coming from behind her, she's effectively been marooned on an island.
We're only 14% of the way into the 2020-2021 season, so there is ample time for Bavagnoli to iron out the wrinkles in Roma's once combustible attack, and Saturday's opponent, 10th place Hellas Verona, could be the perfect foil for Roma's rebirth.
Winless on the year, Verona had the misfortune of starting their new season with a trio of tough fixtures against Juventus, Florentia and Inter Milan, a stretch in which they were outscored 5-1, with their lone goal coming via the penalty spot. The Mastiffs did manage a win against Cittadella in the Coppa Italia last week, but will be severely outmatched against even a depleted Roma side.
With Elisa Bartoli suspended and Vanessa Bernauer nursing an injury, Bavagnoli will be forced to make a few changes to her usual rotations. With Bartoli suspended, look for Angelica Soffia to occupy the left-back spot, while Bavagnoli's midfield trio will likely be comprised by Manuela Giugliano, Andrine Hegerberg and Andressa, though we can't count out Giada Greggi.
Bavagnoli's hand is being forced at full-back and midfield, but her selections up top and in goal could give us an indication of how she plans on kickstarting Roma's dormant attack. Prior to the season, most assumed that the top of Bavagnoli's 4-3-3 would feature Lindsey Thomas in the middle, flanked by Agnese Bonfantini and Annamaria Serturini, giving Roma an agile, athletic and dangerous front-line.
The problem, and it's certainly a good one to have, is that Lazaro's torrid start to the season threw a monkey-wrench into those plans. Initially seen as a backup and a slight improvement over Amalie Thestrup, Lazaro has seized her opportunity, providing Roma with a point of reference and a constant threat at the tip of Bavagnoli's attack. And with her club struggling for goals, Bavagnoli isn't likely to mess with that chemistry.
Bonfantini has struggled to find the back of the net thus far, but has put in a lot of hard kilometers on the right flank, so she figures to retain her starting spot, which leaves Thomas and Serturini to battle it out for the remaining minutes up front. And through three matches, they've both made two starts and one appearance off the bench, though Serturini has an 80 minute advantage in overall minutes. All of which is to say, they'll both probably see the pitch on Saturday, so consider it an open competition going forward, and with Roma desperate for goals, Bavagnoli is likely to ride the hot hand.
Kaja Erzen should get the start at right back and summer signing Osinachi Ohale has been called up to the matchday squad for the first time (though she isn't likely to start) but the final bit of Bavagnoli intrigue is in-between the sticks. Camelia Ceasar, the league's second stingiest keeper last term, suddenly has a challenger to her throne, Italian international Rachele Baldi, who started Roma's last match before the international break. Ceasar has done nothing to lose her place in the team, but Baldi is bigger, stronger and more aggressive in the area, qualities that could give her an edge over the more diminutive Ceasar. It will be interesting to see what wins out: Baldi's size and aggression or Ceasar's speed and distribution; both have value but it doesn't seem like Bavagnoli has settled on a favorite yet.
With Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina already pulling away from the pack, Roma not only need a victory tomorrow, they need a no-doubter; they need to absolutely wipe the floor with Verona to prove to the rest of the league they mean business. It will be tough without Bartoli and Bernauer, but if Roma can quickly work the ball from Giugliano to Andressa and swing it out to the wide forwards, the Giallorosse should be able to wear Verona's backline thin, leaving gaps and creases for Lazaro to occupy and Hegerberg to run into from midfield.
Roma's blueprint hasn't changed, but their building methods need a bit of fine tuning. Hit them hard, hit them fast and don't relent and Roma should net an easy three points.