We’re in the penalty from here on in. To borrow an American sports term, Roma couldn’t afford anymore slip-ups if Betty Bavagnoli’s side are seriously going to achieve their aim of qualifying for Europe.
So Bavagnoli decided to flip the script today, rolling out the Tre Fontane red carpet to a new-look 4-3-3 Roma formation. On paper, the balance of the team didn’t look half bad at all. Manuela Giugliano is the best ball-winner in this entire squad, so slotting her as the lone midfielder at the base of 4-3-3 was probably something Roma should have tried a long time ago.
It would be up to her and centre-half Tecla Pettenuzzo to create from the back, covered by defensive partner Alisson Swaby, while Andressa and Hegerberg both played the box-to-box midfield role to create danger on the wings alongside Roma’s regular marauding fullbacks Elisa Bartoli and Kaja Erzen. The front line was lead by tireless defensive forward Amalie Thestrup, flanked by the combined pace of Lindsey Thomas and Agnese Bonfantini on the wings. Ultimately, Roma ended up beating Verona player-for-player all over the park.
18th Minute: Roma 1-0 Verona (Elisa Bartoli)
I missed the opening quarter-hour of the match, but tuning into instant replays of Elisa Bartoli scoring the opener from a Roma corner was an early hint as to how lopsided the scoreline would finish up being. Andressa curled in the corner, and Roma’s captain got on the end of to make it 1-0.
Almost immediately after Roma scored, much to Bavagnoli’s dismay throughout the entire season, Roma switched off and Pettenuzzo was caught out moving up the line, as Verona got behind her and crossed it into Roma’s box for what could have been an immediate equaliser. Fortunately for Roma, the ball finished up wide instead. That was the only wake-up call Roma needed to switch back on and keep searching for a bigger lead.
20th Minute: Roma 2-0 Verona (Agnese Bonfantini)
Just three minutes after Roma scored the opener, they dropped the ball right back into Verona’s penalty area and Agnese Bonfantini grabbed Roma’s second on a rebound. The high, clean finish into the net was nice enough. It was a Roma milestone - the 100th league goal scored in the top flight - but Bonfantini was far from done for the day.
26th Minute: Roma 3-0 Verona (Andrine Hegerberg)
Once again, Roma would score from a corner for 3-0. This time the delivery was from Manuela Giugliano’s inswinger from the left side. Though there was some debate between the referee and assistant on whether anyone had touched the ball on it’s flight into the box, in the end the referee decided Hegerberg’s was the only touch - a mere nudge of the ball from point blank range - that counted and the goal was good.
30th Minute: Roma 4-0 Verona (Agnese Bonfantini)
By the half hour, this game was well and truly over. Thomas and Thestrup looked tireless in their efforts to try and win the ball from the front, but when Bonfantini decides to join in the defensive transitions then we get to see how ruthless this Roma side really can be.
Bonfantini anticipated a loss ball played between Verona’s midfield inside their own half, and that was all Roma’s #22 needed to win the ball back and turn on the afterburners. First, Bonfantini knocks the ball past the first defender and then simply trailblazes her way to goal, leaving enough gas in the tank to compose herself for a very cool right-foot finish across goal. 4-0, and it would be hard to beat that for the most beautiful goal of the day.
Bonfantini ran to the Roma bench to celebrate, and Bavagnoli’s words to her were that those are the exact counter-movements the coach wants Bonfantini to make in robbing the opponent of time and space.
Roma would spurn a couple more chances before half-time. Thestrup was willing, but lacked the confidence to try and put Thomas through on goal when both were running through to Verona’s goal near uncontested. Instead, Thestrup could only keep her head down and wait for her moment to shoot straight at the keeper, much to Thomas’ visible frustration on the far side. Thestrup would also beat her defender and put herself through on goal for another chance, but let herself got closed down and saw her tame deflected shot go harmlessly wide.
Then Thomas got in her own way, as she got a bad first touch of the ball when put through by Andrine Hegerberg and, unfortunately, Thomas chose to dive in the box from the pressure of losing the ball. The referee couldn’t have been quicker to show a yellow card to Thomas.
48th Minute: Roma 5-0 Verona (Andressa - PK)
There was redemption for Thestrup just before half-time, however, as she had the invention to run wide and backheel a pass into Bonfatini’s path to put the Italian forward in plenty of space on goal. Bonfantini waited just that tenth of a second too late to try and pull it back to Andressa, and the Verona defender recovered to cut out Bonfantini’s telegraphed pass. However, Andressa stayed switched on enough to try and immediately win the ball back and ended up (according to the referee) getting tugged back by the very same Verona defender. A soft penalty, but a penalty awarded to Roma all the same; it was one that Andressa would despatch low and hard-right into Verona’s net for the 5-0 scoreline at the half.
The second half was really just a test of whether Roma could keep their concentration; that’s something which has largely cost Roma a position higher up the table than their current 4th place.
Immediately after the restart today, however, the Giallorosse responded positively as Agnese Bonfantini grabbed her first-ever hat-trick in a Roma jersey.
47th Minute: Roma 6-0 Verona (Agnese Bonfantini)
The Italian found herself on the edge of Verona’s box with the ball, playing it across the Andressa for a quick 1-2 to put Bonfantini through on goal. Bonfantini then made no mistake slotting it past the keeper. As Bonfantini racked up the goals, Andressa continued to rack up the assists.
The Brazilian’s contribution to the match was soon over, hauled off for a early rest just minutes later, as Giada Greggi came off the bench in Andressa’s place. That would continue the theme of a second-half more notable for substitutions than anything else. Bavagnoli didn’t wait long before letting Swaby have a rest, replaced by January-signing Petronella Ekroth. And she’d wait until the final quarter of the match before putting and to Thomas’ frustration on the day.
Verona were dropping back deeper, just wanting to avoid the scoreline getting any worse. With under 20 minutes to go, Bavagnoli saw Thomas was visibly tried from her work out wide today. Thomas had enough time to still catch a Verona defend cold in possession, and run in from the left to Verona’s penalty area.
Truthfully, Thomas should have pulled it back to Thestrup for an easy finish but - perhaps remembering Thestrup’s non-assist from the first half - choose to shoot straight at the keeper herself and return the non-favour. That was all for Thomas, as she came off for Annamaria Serturini for the last 15 minutes of play.
In the 86th minute, Roma played a direct couple of passes down the right flank, until Thestrup put Bonfantini in wide behind Verona’s last line of defence. Hot-hand Bonfantini gave her marker a beautiful feint to dribble through onto goal, but unfortunately couldn’t find the final dink needed over Verona’s on-rushing keeper, who saved and sent the ball clear of danger.
The 90th minute saw that elusive Roma seventh goal disallowed, as Ekroth though she’d tapped in her first goal in Roma colours from a free-kick. But she was judged offside.
Extra time came and went, and Roma finished this game as runaway 6-0 winners on the day.
Player of the Match: Agnese Bonfantini
We could praise every Roma player on the park, and deservedly so as this really was a fluid, cohesive team performance. But when you’ve scored your first ever Roma and Serie A hat-trick (and first-ever hat-trick scored by an AS Roma Women player in the club’s very new history), then you’ve got the player of the match award in the bag.
It’s been frustrating watching Bavagnoli try (and often fail) to the best of out Agnese Bonfantini’s enormous potential this season, but maybe this match is a sign of Roma’s chemistry finally clicked into place.
For large spells of her sophomore year, Bonfantini has looked isolated and removed from Roma’s general buildup on the ball. Today, Bavagnoli’s answer was simply to play more direct football, doing whatever it takes to get the ball back up, fast and early into Verona’s final third. Turning over possession to Verona be damned, as Roma’s three simply choked the space off to win the ball back high and run in on goal.
As if to make Roma’s job easier, Verona themselves chose to try and push up and play Roma’s frontline toe-for-toe - a battle that Roma came out winners in pretty much every individual battle on the day. It took Verona almost an hour, but they finally decided to give it up and drop deep for the rest of the game as the Giugliano-Greggi tandem in midfield sapped what little confidence was left of them.
We also can’t underestimate the work Hegerberg put in to create space for teammates to pass it, while both full-backs Bartoli and Erzen made sure to give Roma the numbers advantage up and down the flanks all day. Meanwhile, Tecla Pettenuzzo embraced the larger creative responsibility that a 4-3-3 puts on her in possession from the backline nicely.
Roma’s overall play meant Agnese Bonfantini looked far more dangerous and was in an unforgiving mood in front of goal.
Bonfantini has always had the Superwoman-esque athlete’s canvas upon which we’re hoping Roma can help build a hell of a player in years to come. Today’s performances goes a long way towards paving the light ahead for her. And now that she’s already surpassed her goal-tally from last season, we can only say Bonfantini has delivered on personal expectations in her sophomore year. Roma will need her to keep the foot on the gas from now until May.
Up Next - Sassuolo vs. Roma
Roma stay four points of joint-second place Fiorentina and Milan, the season’s rivals for that 2nd Champions League spot behind Juventus. All the teams won today, so Roma go into next weekend’s away fixture at Sassuolo knowing nothing has changed: No mistakes, no margins for error, only wins will do.
The major positives today were Bonfantini’s form hitting top gear and Roma maintaining concentration for the full 90 minutes. That’s exactly what the Giallorosse will need more of in 7 days time against the Neroverde.
Europe and potential Coppa glory are still up for grabs with this Roma side, which looked to have finally found it’s chemistry all over the park, but will it be too late for the season’s run-in? Or just in time? Find out next Saturday.