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Roma Made Significant Progress in Second Serie A Season

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Although it was cut short, the Giallorosse made huge strides in their second-ever season in existence.

AS Roma v Orobica Calcio Bergamo - Serie A Women’s Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We're nothing if not adaptable here at CdT. While we expected our coverage of Serie A Femminile to shift back towards Roma's fight for second place and the league's final Champions League spot, thanks to last week's decision not to restart the 2019-2020 season, we've had to pivot to our post-season coverage earlier than any of us expected. It's a shame the season couldn't resume, but Roma accomplished a lot in their 16 matches and were on pace to obliterate their marks for points and goals last season.

Throughout the week, we're going to recap Roma's second season in existence. We'll start with a general recap of the season's highs and lows before moving into specifics later in the week.

Enjoy!

1) Before we delve into the season itself, give us your thoughts on the manner in which the season came to an end? Was there ever really hope for a restart?

Bren: I was kind of shocked, it seemed to happen without much warning or build up. Roma hadn’t yet returned to training, but seemingly everyday Milan published photos of their players in full training, so it seemed like a re-start was coming at some point. But, almost immediately after the announcement, rumors of the usual Italian bureaucratic chicanery started popping up, so the deck may have been stacked against them, whether they knew it or not.

I was incredibly impressed by the player’s response, though. They weren’t standing for a half-assed playoff system AND they used their platform to call for bigger chances, e.g. professionalization.

dallagente: I’ve been a little zoned out of football the last few weeks, so I can’t say I reacted in one way or another. When the big-money leagues were all called off, there was even less chance of Italy restarting.

Chelsea were just awarded the English Super League title on points per game when they were second in the table.France awarded the title to Lyon with a four point lead. I feel Serie A did the right thing by voiding the title. We can give the Italian league credit for that much, right?

I didn’t detect much FIGC vs the players vibe from this decision. Probably one of the few times we could say that recently. The FIGC didn’t want to be accused of not giving the players all options to keep playing, and the players didn’t want to take any option that could later be used against them in the media. By process of elimination, this is where we are, and I feel most are satisfied that no one was hung out to dry.

Bren: Oh, wow, I didn’t realize that title was awarded on points per match. But you’re right, the FIGC was correct to not award an actual title. I guess I just read too much into all the Milan PR; it sure seemed like it was only a matter of time, plus there were only six rounds left. But I suspect the teams not affiliated with men’s clubs may have had financial concerns meeting all the new requirements.

dallagente: Yeah, I agree that was the biggest factor behind it. Teams like Pink Bari and Tavagnacco wouldn’t have the staff to guarantee the health protocols. And they probably felt that some papers would play on the controversy, so no one wanted to take the risk of letting outsiders try and drive a wedge into the collective bargain league-wide. That kind of unity is the biggest factor in terms of pushing to pro status.

2) Roma managed 35 points in only 16 matches this season, so they would have eclipsed last season’s 36 points rather easily, but given our high expectations for this season, how would you rate Roma’s 2019-2020 campaign?

Bren: If we’re going by grades, I’d give them a solid B+. They definitely showed improvement in practically every area, and the new signings hit the ground running, but I keep coming back to that blown lead against AC Milan as the turning point of the season. I wasn’t expecting a title this season, but the pieces are certainly in place for one, but that one loss sort of encapsulated Roma’s standing at the moment—above average but not yet excellent.

Dallagente: When I start out with an aim and fall short of it, it’s important for me to have a real talk with myself as to why. CL qualification was the aim this season.

And that’s where I agree with you about the “why”, even if I badly want to disagree. You know I feel differently about that Milan match. Do you still feel they could have prevented that Jane goal? But overall, I have to admit the season lives or dies by the head-to-head results against Milan, Fiorentina and Juventus. Which, we’ve said before, is inevitable in a 12-team league.

That being said, if Roma had won their game on the road against Florentia, that would have left the Giallorosse sitting in second and Milan and Fiorentina with a game in hand chasing from behind, as play came to an end. THAT would have been an interesting decision for the league to sort out.

Bren: I guess I look at it without nuance...haha. Blowing a two-goal lead is a cardinal sin in my book. And from what I recall, one of those goals was partially deflected, so there was certainly some luck involved, but losing a two-goal lead sticks in my craw more than a 2-1 loss. But you’re right, they should have beaten Florentia, full stop.

3) To what would you attribute this season’s greater success? Was it simply the new signings? The maturation of the holdover players? Something else entirely?

Bren: Gosh, it’s hard to pin it on one thing. If you told me back in August that Annamaria Serturini’s goal total would have fallen by more than 50%, I would have assumed Roma bottomed out, but I think the underlying factor to her dip is the reason Roma were more successful—there was simply WAY more depth this year.

Roma almost equaled their pace from last season (36 points and 43 goals) in six fewer matches and I think that’s almost 100% down to having a deeper roster. Bonfantini’s breakout and Lindsey Thomas’ rapid ascension gave the club more scoring options upfront, while Andrine Hegerberg provided some punch from midfield.

Dallagente: I’d call it another transition season because of all the changes in the squad. It felt like the club wanted to call in more experience from abroad to start aiming for that next level. Signings like Thomas, Andressa, Hegerberg and domestic signings like Giugliano and Ceasar brought a sense of belief that the club is building towards big things. When you saw Ceasar come into the pre-season camp and putting teammates at ease, laughing and going about their work in a relaxed way, you just felt like the club have signed some quality players who know what it takes because they’ve been there before.

AS Roma v Orobica Calcio Bergamo - Serie A Women’s Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

But we’ve also got to ask if the league isn’t already dividing up and the bottom getting weaker? Very few teams have the kind of organization that Roma do.

Bren: You bring up an interesting point and I wonder the extent to which the inaugural squad actually fit their vision for this new project. In other words, did they simply say “well, we’re new, let’s just get this first season underway.” The sheer number of signings they made this past summer, and indeed the diversity in those signings, leads me to believe the 19/20 squad was more reflective of what they actually wanted.

dallagente: Right, I’d have to go back and look into the summer of 2018 in further detail. I was already very dialled into all news about Roma around that time, but the formation of the woman’s squad snuck up on me overnight. One minute we were finding out about Elisa Bartoli, and the next minute a host of teammates were lining up on the Spanish Steps.

4) Which players impressed you most this season?

Bren: I think everyone knows where I’m going with this: Agnese Bonfantini. She took tremendous strides forward this year and looked stronger, faster, and more aggressive than she did last year. I think, given a couple more years of refinement, she has a legitimate shot to be a superstar.

Outside of that, I was incredibly impressed with Hegerberg’s offensive contributions. We profiled her as sort of a ball-winning, possession recycling style midfielder, but she was in the attacking mix to a far greater degree than I imagined in the summer.

I won’t include Manuela Giugliano or Elisa Bartoli because we already knew they were class, but I’ll save my last one for Tecla Pettenuzzo. She just came right in and stole that job and showed a level of intuition and intelligence far beyond her 20 years.

Dallagente: Haha yeah we both knew you were going to go with Bonfantini, but where Bonfantini is trying to get to, Lindsey Thomas is already there. And getting better, too. Which is only natural since Thomas is older, but she leads the team in every objective measure.

Thomas has scored the most goals, racked up the most assists, played the most game time.

Anytime Roma have been up against it and needed someone to settle the nerves, Thomas has done the business all season. Whereas I think Bonfantini has often looked isolated from the team this season.

And generally, Roma have struggled to work the ball out the back and find their wide forwards in the way that Bavagnoli ideally wants them to, so Thomas’ link-up play, her ability to stretch defenses and her versatility across the front line has been the Weapon X that the coach is thanking her lucky stars for.

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Women Serie A Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images

Andressa is my other candidate for player of the season. It took her (and Roma) a while to figure out that her influence is best in the middle, and not out wide. But once she got going, she has the kind of decision-making and range of passing, not to mention the dead-balls and finishing off her left foot, that put her in charge of this team.

Besides those two, I’m going to go along with you and give a shoutout to Pettenuzzo. I was skeptical of her at the beginning of the season but she proved me wrong. I’ll say the exact same thing for Vanessa Bernaeur who, this year with more experienced teammates around her, has turned out to be a battler who can win the ball back and make opponents regret it.

Bren: Yeah, it was sort of crazy how they forgot about Andressa in the first few weeks. I remember doing a big write up on her FIFPRO nomination only to see her rotting on the bench. I hope they have her wrapped up for next season because once she started playing, it was an “aha” moment. She showed her quality almost every week.

dallagente: Exactly, that is my low-key fear this summer. Andressa isn’t afraid to sling her bag over her shoulder and move onto the next adventure. We could easily find out over the summer that she’s moved abroad or, worse, up North. So I hope Roma do everything they make sure she stays.

5) Which players frustrated you the most this season?

Bren: Hmm, I love this team so this is a tough one. I was frustrated by the injuries Giugliano suffered, I think that held her back from the MVP-level production we expected when she signed, but it’s not an indictment on her qualities.

I found the right-back position to be a bit maddening at times, though. Kaja Erzen has the size and traits to dominate, but I don’t think we saw it consistently enough throughout the season.

Dallagente: To be honest, I cannot think of anyone right away. It’s a young squad and I feel everyone is performing to expectations, or above them. Giugliano, injuries aside, still has to learn to mix it up with her passing and not always look for the killer long ball, but that will come. And she’s head and shoulders above every other player in terms of defending, so it’s hard to criticise her.

Erzen’s lack of understanding with Swaby is frustrating at times, especially in the box. But I think that’s easily worked on. I suppose if there is anyone who’s frustrating it’s Pettenuzzo.

It sounds contradictory but, as much as she’s impressed me on the ball, Pettenuzzo’s still gotta work on her discipline. At least she wasn’t racking up cards like she was earlier in her career, but she’s given away a penalty or two this season all the same, and been late to a few second balls in the box that lead to goals. And at set pieces, she’s not trusted to mark the six yard box by her coach, which is unusual for centre back. She has the potential to dominate play on the ground like Laura Fusetti does for Milan, but she has a lot of miles ahead of her to improve as a defender.

6) Which new signing had the biggest impact this year?

Bren: For the sake of variety, I’ll say Camelia Ceasar. Rosalia Pipitone is a solid veteran and made some huge saves last season, but seeing Ceasar in between the sticks made me realize what Roma was missing in goal last season: speed and agility. Caesar is slight in stature, but her timing, reflexes, and aggression were very impressive this year.

AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina - Women Serie A Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images

Dallagente: Ceasar’s temperament has definitely made a difference at the back, though she does have an error or two in her locker waiting to creep out in games.

I’ve already mentioned Thomas and Andressa as my picks. But I’d also agree with you that it’s easy to underestimate Andrine Hegerberg’s influence. She knows how to time her runs, and her work off the ball is gold.

If Hegerberg had buried the easiest chance of the lot against Orobica, she’d have scored a first-half hat-trick and gone down in the history books as the first-ever hat-trick scorer for Roma. Now that honour is Bonfantini’s, but it just goes to show how little moments can add up. And it’s also testament to just how well Hegerberg knows how to show up at the right time, right place.

When’s she not a goal threat, she’s giving the Roma midfield a much needed aerial presence. And when Roma have tried to work the ball out of the back, it’s Hegerberg dragging opponents out of position to try and make passing lanes for her teammates. She’s got a skillset that I don’t think any other teammate can replace right now.

7) There are two very clear divides in this league: From the top four down and then the micro-divide between Roma and the remaining powers (Juve, Milan, Fiorentina). Roma has done well enough against the Viola but can’t seem to take points off the other two. How do they change that going forward?

Bren: I guess when I look at those teams, Juve and Milan in particular, I see identifiable superstars, players who come through when and where it matters most; in front of goal when the match is on the line. Juve has Cristiana Girelli and Barbara Bonansea and Milan has Giacinti, all three are star players and all three have that Jordan-like killer instinct to put a game away and remove all hope from an opponent.

Roma doesn’t have that quite yet. I think you nailed it last summer—if this gap remains intact, it’s going to be impossible to traverse in the future. I think they have the necessary pieces in place to make that leap (Bonfantini, Greggi, Serturini, Giugliano), and it may sound reductive, but they just have to do it—beat Milan or Juve once and I think the momentum will shift.

Dallagente: Both Juventus and Milan have profited from siphoning off Milena Bertolini’s Brescia generation of players. Roma got in on some of that action by signing Caesar and Giugliano this year, and it’s helped. But there’s only so much of that Brescia legacy to go around.

I’ve never seen a Juve game live because I don’t have Sky Italia. It’s hard for me to say anything Juve-wise. I mean when Martina Rosucci is banging in 35-yard volleys from distance against you from midfield, what can you do? Maybe they could have gotten a foothold earlier in the game, before Juve get that much confidence and momentum on their side.

When I look at the Milan games, it’s clear that Milan don’t respect Roma on the ball. They press Roma relentlessly, and it’s up to Roma to make them regret that. Even at home to teams like Tavagnacco, sometimes we’d see opponents doing the opposite extreme. They’d figure out that they can sit deep and not bother to mark player-for-player, because the possession was too slow. Moving the ball around is definitely an area where Roma has a couple of gears to find in the locker, and Bavagnoli wants to help them find that confidence. I don’t know if that’ll be enough against Juventus but it’d be the difference against Milan.

8) We both predicted a Roma Scudetto in 2021, which is next season, so what does the club have to do on and off the pitch to make that happen? Who do they keep? What type of players should be added? Is Bavagnoli the right person for the job?

Bren: I think they have to keep, like, 90% of this team intact. The young core is ludicrously talented, they did a wonderful job revamping the defense and, as we discussed earlier, the depth was markedly improved, so they’re on the right track.

It may not be a necessity, per se, but I’d like to see a bigger, more powerful option at center-forward. Having that weight, that gravity in the middle would be a great complement to their bevy of wide players.

I think they also need to sort out the right-back: is it going to be Soffia or Erzen?

Dallagente: Speaking of strikers, I wonder if Roma now regret letting Melania Martinovic go? And if they wouldn’t give her a phone call to see if she wants to come back to the capital?

But I feel the team simply needs more experience. As much as we’ve praised the young players, if there’s another experienced signing from the French, Spanish, US or English league that can be made tomorrow - I’d make it. Whether it be in goal, the heart of defence, on the flanks or up front. I think midfield is the one area Roma excels and is near-impossible to improve as it is.

I wouldn’t make many signings. Just two, three max. But I think Roma’s foreign contingent have proven Milena Bertolini wrong this season, when the Italy coach was claiming that foreign signings were bringing down the quality of the league. In Rome, it’s been the opposite, and it can’t do anything but help all our Italian young talent to have top reference players to train alongside, day in day out.

I look around the league and the players I’d think of signing are Martinovic, Daniela Sabatino, Katja Schroffenegger and Laura Fusetti. But other than that, I think you’re looking abroad for players who can take Roma to a title by next season.

Bren: I worry that they’re going to be held back by the league’s salary limitations, but I would LOVE to see them grab an American veteran who may be looking for a new adventure. Maybe someone like Christine Press, Carli Lloyd or Kelley O’Hara. Probably far-fetched, but I can dream.

Sabatino seems entirely plausible, though. She’s too good for Sassolo.

9) What stands out as the individual moment this season on your highlight reel?

dallagente: Bonfantini’s hat-trick against Verona this season is a worthy candidate. But I’m going to go hipster, and say Manuela Coluccini’s cameo on her return from injury.

You come on the pitch after an ACL nightmare, and you’re immediately threading passes like you never left, and then come up with a top-corner curler from outside of the box? You couldn’t script it. It’s the kind of moment you dream of pulling off in your back yard as a kid.

Bren: You stole my answer! But I’ll go with both of Giugliano’s league goals—against Verona and Bari—since they were both 20+ yarders tucked right into the corner. I also really liked the match at San Marino. I don’t know why, but it was such a unique setting; I really enjoyed watching that match and got lost staring at the landscapes...haha.

dallagente: I think I tuned into late to the San Marino game, but I feel exactly the same way about the background settings. It’s one of my favourite things about the game, and we’ve said it before. I remember the Fiorentina game, away in Tuscany, and there were apartment buildings in the backdrop. The more the game turns pro, the more sterile and homogenous the scenery is going to get, so I figure on enjoying the game as it is right now while we still can. I’m glad that they’re ramping up the multi-ball system though!


Be sure to stick with us this week as we continue to review Roma's 2019-2020 season.