With three wins, three draws and one defeat to start the year, Roma have struggled to find any measure of consistency this season. Making matters worse, in all three of their draws, Roma have forfeited leads in the second half, and had they managed to hang onto two of those leads, they'd be sitting pretty in third place, two points behind Sunday's opponents AC Milan.
But, as things current stand, the Giallorosse are mired in sixth place with twelve points, four behind Milan. Roma caught a slight break with Saturday's results when Empoli drew Inter Milan but weren't quite as lucky with the Fiorentina result, as the Viola make quick work of Pink Bari in a 2-0 victory. Despite Fiorentina's good fortune, Roma can leapfrog Empoli and Fiorentina into fourth place with a victory over Milan on the road tomorrow.
AC Milan vs. Roma: November 15th. 14:30 CET/8:30 EDT. Stadio Vismara, Milano
The problem is simply that Roma have never defeated Milan, losing by an aggregate 12-4 score line over the previous two seasons. The most recent fixture between these sides, last January, saw Roma jump out to a surprising two goal lead thanks to a Lindsey Thomas brace, but that high wouldn't last as the Rossonere scored three goals in 19 minutes to walk away winners, denying Roma the biggest upset of their brief existence.
We reacted quite harshly to that loss for a variety of reason, but largely because it would have been the biggest victory in club history. Juventus have won the past two league titles and have toyed with Roma in their four league meetings, but Milan were never that far behind the Old Lady, finishing the past two seasons five and nine points behind Juventus, respectively, so toppling Milan could have been a tremendous boon to Roma's quest to break into those ranks.
Despite their sluggish start to the season, Roma's task tomorrow, and the subsequent psychological benefits, are no less important. Through their first seven matches this season, Milan have been flat-out dominant, running out a +14 goal differential (second best) while conceding only four goals, tied with Juventus for the league's best mark.
It goes without saying, but let's say it anyway: a win tomorrow would be massive for Roma's confidence and their spot on the table.
And as one would imagine, leading this charge has been Valentia Giacinti, Milan's prolific number nine. With six goals in seven matches, Giacinti is up to her old tricks and seems like a safe bet to rebound from a rare down year last season when she managed only nine goals in 15 matches.
Giacinti has received a bit of a boost with the addition of Englishwoman Natasha Dowie, who arrived from the Australian League over the summer and has bagged five goals in seven appearances. Milan also pulled off a stunning and somewhat unexpected coup in the form of Spanish midfielder Veronica Boquete, who arrived on loan just last week from the NWSL's Utah Royals. Add all that up and the rich have gotten even richer.
So, does Roma have any shot tomorrow?
In her pre-match comments, Roma manager Betty Bavagnoli preached balance and courage; having the ability and willingness to take the match to Milan rather than reading and reacting to the Rossonere's tactics.
As we said at the outset, Roma have had a bit of trouble maintaining leads this season, but scoring first may be their best chance tomorrow. Hell, scoring at all may be their only chance tomorrow; remember, Milan have allowed only four goals all season long and have conceded first only once—in a 1-0 loss to Juventus.
So, while it's tempting to assume that Roma will press high, hunt for an early goal and then just park the bus, Bavagnoli's comments point towards planned aggression. Milan aren't accustomed to teams coming straight at them, so perhaps a courageous approach is the right one.
Roma certainly have the offensive weapons to put Milan back on their heels, but to date they haven't been able to muster those sort of performances agains the league's top sides.
Will that all change on Sunday? If so, Roma could jump right back into the Champions League race.