Last weekend's Coppa Italia Quarterfinal clash against the San Marino Academy was notable for a few reasons. First, since they were playing in the independent/sovereign nation of San Marino, we can technically call that their first taste of European football; and an incredibly successful one at that, as they ran away 6-1 winners. Second, we saw arguably the best individual performance from a Roma player yet, as Andressa Alves scored one goal and assisted three more; it's been a slow burn for the Brazilian, but she has really come alive over the past few months. And last but not least, Roma set themselves up for an easy passage to the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia; only having to maintain a five-goal lead later this month. Roma managed all this while playing in-front of a stunning back drop of rolling green heels and Spanish style roofs, placing San Marino on my ever-expanding list of places to see.
But back to the matter at hand: Roma's Round 15 fixture against ninth place Verona. While the Mastiffs should prevent a stiffer challenge to Betty Bavagnoli's crew than the second division San Marino Academy did last week, Roma put Verona to bed after only three minutes in their first fixture.
Starting with a goal from captain Elisa Bartoli in only the third minute, Roma made quick work of Verona back in October, stacking up a three-goal lead by only the 29th minute. Goals from Bartoli, Andrine Hegerberg, Annamaria Serturini and Amalie Thestrup gave Roma an impressive 4-0 victory on the road.
Keys to Victory Over Verona
The Dynamic Duo: Andressa & Lindsey Thomas
Let's give credit where credit is due. While last season's Roma squad surprised the whole league by finishing in fourth place and making a run to the semi-finals in the Coppa Italia, the club was lacking a bit of versatility in attack. Annamaria Serturini had a break out year with 11 league goals, helping her earn a spot on Italy's World Cup squad, but she was pretty much Roma's options A through Z; the remainder of the forwards scored only nine league goals last season.
Roma v. Verona: February 15th. 14:30 CET/8:30 EST. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
Enter French forward Lindsey Thomas and Brazilian do-it-all attacker Andressa Alves, who have helped transform Roma's offense into the league's third-most prolific. Thomas' speed and finishing ability have been the perfect foil for Andressa's ability to thread a pass from virtually any angle, giving Roma the sort of dynamism they were lacking up front last year.
Thomas is a marker's worst nightmare, using her speed and elusiveness to interchange and overlap with Roma's other forwards, while Andressa can operate as a forward, winger and midfielder and has a keen eye for goal herself. This melange of skills, coupled with the speed and tenacity of Serturini and Agnese Bonfantini, makes it almost impossible for defenders to completely hault Roma's forward momentum.
And as we've seen in recent weeks, when Thomas is running wild and Andress has the freedom to create where she choose, the goals soon follow. If Roma stand a chance at repeating their 4-0 romp from October, it'll fall down to these two.
The Young Italians at the Back: Tecla Pettenuzzo and Angelica Soffia
Entering the season, we assumed Roma's backline would be stewarded by Allyson Swaby, Federica Di Criscio, Elisa Bartoli and Kaja Erzen, and while they have all been critical components of Romas +17 defensive record, they've received a sizable boost from two of the club's youngest players: 19-year-old right back Angelica Soffia and 20-year-old center back Tecla Pettenuzzo.
Soffia wasn't a new face in the Roma camp this year, having made 19 appearances last season, but the club's decision to bring in the more experienced Erzen to occupy the right-back spot wasn't a good sign for young Soffia. While she's been second fiddle to Erzen for much of the year, she has really come on in 2020, proving to be a credible two-way threat, using her size and speed to keep opposing defenders on the back foot when she's rushing forward, and showing a greater degree of poise and positional awareness in defense than she did last season.
Pettenuzzo, meanwhile, was part of Roma's massive summer shopping spree, making the jump from Sassuolo where she was an unquestioned starter last season. With Swaby and Di Criscio entrenched in-front of her, Pettenuzzo was initially the third choice in defense, but once Di Criscio was lost for the season with an ACL tear, Pettenuzzo seized the opportunity, forming a solid partnership with Swaby. What Pettenuzzo lacks in size she makes up for in speed in touch, making her a perfect complement for Swaby's more physical style. She's been a virtual lock for 90 minutes all season long and has acted as a virtual sweeper on Roma's back line, covering up gaps, tracking down wayward wingers and jump starting counter attacks.
Verona aren't exactly on par with the league's top sides, but if these four players are hitting their strides, Roma should make light work of their visitors on Saturday. A win at the Tre Fontane would be Roma's third straight, and with matches against Sassuolo, Florentia and San Marino looming, Bavagnoli's side could enter their crucial fixture against Juventus on March 28th on the back of an impressive winning streak, giving them solid footing for an epic upset.