Fresh off their crushing defeat to AC Milan, one in which Roma blew a two-goal lead, the Giallorosse faced a must win against second place Fiorentina last week at the Stadio Tre Fontane. After falling behind to an early first half goal, Roma and the Viola traded punches throughout the match before Andressa's 90th minute penalty averted complete disaster for Betty Bavagnoli's side, leveling the match at two apiece before the final whistle blew.
Roma needed a win, but the draw keeps them within four points of the Viola, who are even on 29 points with Milan, after the latter won their game in hand match against Bari midweek. As we've mentioned over the past several weeks, the key to Roma finishing in second place was their record against the top three sides, and so far, not so good.
Empoli v. Roma: February 2nd. 12:30 CET/6:30 EST. Stadio Monteboro, Empoli.
Following last weekend's draw, Roma's young defender Tecla Pettenuzzo spoke to Roma TV about the club's current state of affairs.
After the Milan game we needed to send a message to everyone, a strong message, to show that we are still here and we still believe in what we are doing...So I think we were able to do that, which is so important.
The targets remain the same as they always were. Clearly the task is a bit tougher now, because we’ve dropped points and have lost the head-to-head against Milan – but we are still confident, our destiny is in our hands and we will keep battling for the second spot that we want.
Full marks to the club for clawing back twice against Fiorentina. In the wake of such a heartbreaking defeat to Milan the week prior, Roma could have easily collapsed at the first sign of distress against Fiorentina, but thanks to goals from Amalie Thestrup and Andressa they were able to rescue a point.
(Here comes the but...)
But we have to quibble with Pettenuzzo somewhat. With a four point gap behind Milan and Fiorentina, and with no further matches directly against them, Roma will not only need to be basically perfect over their next nine rounds, they will also need an inordinate amount of help to secure second place come May.
If Roma can run the table (a big if for any club under any circumstances), they'd still need Juventus to take full points from Milan and Fiorentina, while hoping the Milan v. Fiorentina fixture on February 22nd ends in a draw.
While Roma are still on pace to exceed last season's point total (a notable sign of progress) I'm afraid things aren't lined up quite as neatly as Pettenuzzo suggests.
Pettenuzzo, a 20-year-old defender from Vicenza, joined the club from Sassuolo over the summer and has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the season. Initially viewed as third choice behind Allyson Swaby and Federica Di Criscio, Pettenuzzo has made 10 appearances, including eight starts.
She continued to speak about those dropped points and their implications for the rest of the season:
During the season we’ve dropped points we shouldn’t have. I think about the game against Florentia, which we should have won, or the game against Milan – where we threw it away in the final 20 minutes. We need to manage games better, and see them out to make sure we don’t drop crucial points.
That's some remarkable insight and candor from a player so young. Pettenuzzo continued dropping knowledge by praising Roma's next opponent, eighth place Empoli.
For a club in dire need of three points, seeing lowly Empoli on the docket should be a cause for celebration. However, as Pettenuzzo pointed out during her interview, Empoli has made life difficult for many opponents this season, taking points from seventh place Florentia, fifth place Sassuolo, third place Milan and even played the two-time reigning champs Juventus to a pair of one-goal defeats.
Led by 22-year-old Roma loanee (and born and bred Roman) Flaminia Simonetti, Empoli have scored 17 goals while running out to a -4 goal differential, both of which place them roughly mid-table, but when you consider the lopsided nature of the league, Empoli should be considered "the best among the rest” as it were. Simonetti has made 12 appearances while scoring a club leading three goals and is certainly making a case for a return to Roma next season.
That's pretty impressive fare for a newly promoted side and if they can make life difficult for Juventus, they can certainly do the same to Roma. The key for the Giallorosse, as it so often is, is the extent to which they can maintain their aggression throughout 90 minutes. Strip away all the names and faces and Roma are perhaps the most athletic team in the league, capable of knocking back any defense.
The problem, as Bavagnoli has alluded to several times in recent weeks, is simply maintaining that energy from start to finish. I had an inkling that Bavagnoli might entertain the idea of using Annamaria Serturini, who is nothing if not a bundle of attacking energy, as a second half substitute against Fiorentina; a notion that proved true.
While it was a sound idea, it does point to persistent theme this season: Bavagnoli's inability to settle on a consistent rotation pattern. Any manager has to perform a delicate dance between rotation and cohesion, but the problem with Bavagnoli's tinkering is that she's messing with the most important parts, mixing and matching Roma's most lethal players in midfield and attack.
While we can't draw a straight line between the two phenomena, there has been more isolation in Roma's attack lately, which could fall down to a lack of sustained familiarity between Roma's key players.
Granted, those problems loom larger against the top clubs, but with only one match remaining against the top three sides, Roma has to hit all their marks in their other eight fixtures.
And it all starts on Superbowl Sunday in Empoli.