Roma Women’s pre-season already kicked off weeks ago, moving from the Giulio Onesti training centre onto the beaches of Ostia, and then stepping up a gear to a friendly 4-0 victory over Florentia and following that up with a 3-2 win over Empoli last week. Now that the official squad lineup is more or less a done deal, after Osinachi Ohale’s arrival, we can get to the questions that will make or break Roma’s challenge for silverware in 2020-2021.
And silverware should be the goal by now. Even if Roma have yet to know what it’s like to clinch a top two finish and European football, the progression from finishing second to finishing first doesn’t look as big as the gap Roma have had to overcome on the route to establishing themselves—in their first two seasons as A.S. Roma—as a legitimate top four club.
Beyond Roma’s ambitions are a number of tougher-looking Serie A sides now hungry for more.
In the next edition of Serie A, we’ll see a Guagni-less Fiorentina side that’s had a fairly hefty makeover (beyond just losing their captain to Spanish football), a Juventus side that’s stayed the course, a Milan side that has yet again made some big changes on the summer mercato, and the growing force of their neighbours Inter Milan.
If that wasn’t enough stakes raised, there are newcomers Napoli who’ve spared no expense in building a Serie A-ready team, as well as the can-beat-you-on-their-day mid-table projects of Florentia, Sassuolo and a very young Empoli side.
To sum it up: easy wins are becoming less easy in this league. Expect more teams to take points off each other as the franchise opens up this season. We’re not at professional status in Serie A Femminile yet, but the appetite is there and the foundation is coming together.
Here are the key questions Roma will have to answer on the pitch to decide the outcome of their 2020-2021 campaign.
Have Roma Signed Enough Experience?
Roma have opted for continuity this summer, so you’d only have to look at our U-23 countdown from last season to see this is still a project made of young core players.
To put it in perspective, champions Juventus won last season’s title with an average age of 28-years-old among their first-team eleven. Juve’s backline was almost entirely made-up of defenders 30-years-old and above, as the champions conceded the least in Serie A, letting in just 10 goals past Giuliani by the time last season was called off after 16 league games.
Meanwhile, second-placed Fiorentina lined up with an average age of 29-years-old among their first-team eleven, clinching another season of Champions League football in the process; the same European football that Roma want to break into by this season’s end.
Roma have come a long way since the days when defender Emma Lipman was expected to lead the side in experience, alongside Roma captain Elisa Bartoli back in the summer of 2018. But the Giallorosse still spent last season with young players like Camelia Ceasar and Tecla Pettenuzzo at the core of the side. Only once Brazilian playmaker Andressa (27), off-the-ball specialist Andrine Hegerberg (27) and complete forward Lindsey Thomas (25) started to get their feet under the table in the Eternal City did Roma begin to look like a side that could start to control games.
Nonetheless, the projected Roma first-eleven for this season still comes in at an average age of around 25 to 26-years-old. Expect Roma to still try and fast-break their way up the table on the counter. If Roma get just 8 seconds of possession inside the opponent’s half in this league, it usually ends up in either a Roma goal or a turnover—with no real in-between.
We know Roma can counter-attack their way to victory against most Serie A teams, but can they control possession and grind out results against high-pressing sides like AC Milan at the top of the table?
With young stars like Bonfantini, Giugliano and Swaby a year wiser, alongside new arrivals like Ohale (28), Lazaro (26) and Baldi (25), they’ve got the best shot since the club came into being.
Will Vanessa Bernauer Have Another Good Season?
Sticking to the experience theme, I’ve rarely had a change of heart about a player in the way I’ve had with Vanessa Bernauer. When the now-32-year-old first arrived in Rome for the ‘18-’19 season, she had European experience with Werder Bremen under her belt and was expected to be the creative force to lead Roma from the trequartista role.
It didn’t turn out well.
Whether it was down to Bernauer herself, or finding it tough to work with raw attackers like Bonfantini and Serturini and teenage midfielder Giada Greggi alongside her, Bernie just didn’t convince as a playmaker. She was relegated to squad-player status by the time ‘19-’20 came about, even agreeing to give up her number 10 jersey to star signing Manuela Giugliano. The writing seemed on the wall.
But then Bernie re-invented herself as a ball-winning midfielder with a cracking shot on goal, in a more experienced midfield where she could work around the refined moves into space from Hegerberg and Andressa. She also knew Bonfantini and Serturini’s game better, while striker Lindsey Thomas’ ability to find space between the lines is any midfielder’s dream to work with further up the pitch.
As a result, Bernie shone. And she’s already racked up a goal in the first pre-season match this summer to show she means to continue her good form.
It’ll take the same kind of contribution from squad players like Bernaeur and Claudia Ciccotti this season, who often fly under the radar with their ability to help Roma get results over the line.
Will Giada Greggi Find Her Place in This Roma Side?
It’s hard to believe it, after two very contrasting seasons in an A.S. Roma jersey, but Giada Greggi is still officially vice-captain at this club.
From looking like a core player in ‘18-’19, to being relegated to obscurity on the bench throughout last season, Giada Greggi has gone through the mixed fortunes of having to learn to expand her game from the sidelines at club level, while being crowed Italy’s best young player on the award circuit and becoming a senior international with Italy.
That’s because, despite Greggi’s difficulties in breaking into Roma’s star-studded midfield, the Roman holds the best ball-control in the entire Roma squad. Besides Andressa and Elisa Bartoli, there isn’t another player you’d want to hang onto the ball and control possession like Greggi can.
What’s missing from Greggi’s game? Last season made it evident that she has to be able to strike up better chemistry with her teammates in midfield. Greggi’s always loved a 1-2 pass-and-move so she’s not a self-involved player, but she’ll have to be able to read the pockets of space better in order to give her team the numbers advantage in any phase of play.
If there is anyone who can do it, it’s Greggi. She just needs the game time to show what she’s learnt from her more experienced teammates.
Will There Be A New Teenage Breakout Star This Season?
Giada Greggi may have a tough time breaking into Roma’s midfield, and you can say the same for talented and physical teenage midfielder Emma Severini.
Meanwhile, we’ve anticipated it for two years now, but surely 18-year old ball-playing defender Heden Corrado’s (pictured above) time will come this season, while fellow young centre-back Tecla Pettenuzzo will want to confirm her good work done in the last campaign.
Then there are the young guns Alice Corelli (16) and Serena Landa (19) looking for any chance to break into the Roma side up front. Both teenagers have enjoyed extraordinary goal scoring success at Primavera level, while Corelli scored the first goal of this summer’s preseason campaign in the very first minute of action against Florentia.
We’d be amiss to go without mentioning Angelica Soffia at full-back, too. Soffia may no longer be a teenager, but she’s managed to impress Bavagnoli enough to hang around in the squad for a third consecutive season. Soffia badly needs to find confidence on the ball, but the gains in physique she made last summer were proof enough that Soffia really wants to fight for this club.
Will Manuela Giugliano Still Look for the Hollywood Ball?
Manuela Giugliano is still, on her day and even at such a young age, the best player in this league. Whether it comes down to her ball-striking technique on goal, from set pieces, or her ability to thread a pass from anywhere on the field, she really has got every single tool in her arsenal.
And, whisper it quietly, but her defending is the best part of her game. As a ball-winner, she is head and shoulders above the best Serie A has to offer. All the more reason for her to have morphed her career—under no pressure at all from her peers or coaches to do so—from attacking midfielder to becoming an all-action, deep-lying “quarterback” for her breakout summer at the 2019 World Cup.
It was that performance that bagged Giugliano the Player of the Season award in Serie A, and the implicit trust of Betty Bavagnoli shaping her own tactics around Giugliano’s gifts at the heart of Roma midfield last season.
But then injuries plagued Giugliano’s year, and she struggled to even keep her place in the Italy squad by the time 2020 came into play. What Giugliano needs is not just an injury-free season at the heart of the Giallorosse engine room, but to move on from playing like an attacking midfielder converted to deep-lying midfield. It’s time to really vary the passing and be a playmaker.
Giugliano still has a bit of Lorenzo Pellegrini-itis about her; she knows she can crack a killer through-ball and tries it often. But so often that it can lead to premature turnovers of the ball, making her Roma side run back and forth down the pitch-length more often than they’d want to.
If there’s anyone who Roma are relying to learn how to keep it simple, it’s got to be Manuela Giugliano. Just take a page out of Andressa’s book.
Will Bonfantini and Thomas Push Each Other to Double Figures?
Taxi for Refiloe Jane pictured above, as Roma’s attacking star Agnese Bonfantini once again cuts a path through to goal at blistering speed.
One of the biggest shames of last season getting cut short is Bonfantini and Roma teammate Lindsey Thomas—who live together along with Bonfantini’s family through the pandemic—racking up the goals for the Giallorosse at a rate that would have given the league’s best in Girelli and Bonetti a run for their money.
We’ll never get to know who would have finished top scorer for Roma last season. Thomas won our Player of the Season, but it could have easily turned out to be Bonfantini with the way the Italian was playing throughout this past spring.
Bonfantini had a tougher time of it than Thomas at first, but then 2020 rolled in and Agnese looked like she’d truly hit another level in her career; she became the first ever A.S. Roma player to score a hat-trick in Serie A.
Maybe both would have finished last season in the double-figures, given the chance to play all 22 games.
It’s a feat that’s already been done by Roma’s third-attacker, Annamaria Serturini, in the club’s very first season, albeit with the help of penalties. So don’t count Serturini out either, even though my money’s on either Thomas or Bonfantini.
Will Roma Finally Beat Their Direct Rivals?
You can throw out everything we’ve written up to this point, as this is the most important question of all. And if Roma don’t answer it on the pitch in the way they want, then just forget about it.
In a 12-team league, you have to win your games against direct rivals. Bren has been saying this for a couple of seasons now, and it’s absolutely true.
Roma did collect a win away to Fiorentina last year, thanks to a Serturini cracker to get the season’s momentum going, but it’s Valentina Giacinti’s Milan that continues to frustrate Roma the most. So many close games, and yet always a win for Milan by final whistle.
And then there are the games against Juventus, where Roma have never had a look-in and often been overwhelmed by the organised pressure on the ball from the Bianconere. It’s similar to Milan’s own style, only with Martina Rosucci rocket-goals from the Juventus midfield sprinkled on top to truly break your spirit.
The league may turn out to be more competitive this year, but it’ll still be the scorelines against the other “Big 4” teams that will make or break Roma’s season.
Roma kick off the season this Sunday against Sassuolo. Stick with us this week as we countdown the Top 10 U-23 talents at Betty Bavagnoli's disposal.