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Expectations High as Roma Enter Their Third Season in Top Flight

Betty Bavagnoli has been working with a slow burn the past two years, so we will finally see the spark this season?

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

Two years ago, in Roma's first season in existence, the club wasn't exactly assembled in haste, but the roster a somewhat patchwork feel. You had your resident Romans—eight of them in fact—some incredibly young players and a few veterans looking for a new start with a brand new club, but there wasn't really a common tactical or logical thread throughout the squad. It didn't feel incomplete per se, just lacking a definitive identity.

Despite that lack of cohesion, Roma scratched and clawed their way to fourth place, looking alternately invigorated and confused at varying points throughout the year. Led by Annamaria Serturini and Elisa Bartoli, Roma put up a respectable effort in their first season, helping Betty Bavagnoli earn coach of the year honors in the process. For their first crack at women's football, it was a pretty solid return—fourth place, 15 points behind third place AC Milan.

In their second season in Serie A, the club completely reworked the roster, casting out those spare parts and replacing them with experienced veterans from abroad. We weren't quite sure they were title-ready just yet, but with a year of experience under their belt, Roma now had an identity and a definitive plan to carry the project forward.

While the ‘19-’20 season ended rather abruptly due to the pandemic (or more correctly, due to the FIGC's decision not to restart the season in June), Roma managed to make tremendous strides. Sure, they finished fourth place again...behind Milan again...but in six fewer matches they earned more points and scored only two fewer goals than the prior season and trimmed that 15 point deficit down to a single, solitary point.

Through their first 38 matches in existence, Roma have proven to be one of the four best clubs in the league. But with a bevy of talented youngsters, a talented manager and several World Cup tested veterans, fourth place is no longer the acceptable minimum; this team has what it takes to win, so their third trip through Serie A comes with unprecedented expectations.

We addressed those issues and more in our now annual season preview roundtable. Please enjoy it and please, if you've been hesitant, now is the time to jump on the Giallorosse bandwagon. They will win a trophy before their male counterparts. I can guarantee that.

1.Let’s jump right in: what are your expectations for Roma this season?

AS Roma v Juventus - Women Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Bren: I’m expecting nothing short of second place. They’ve made steady strides through their first two years and actually secured more points in the shortened ‘19-’20 season than they did in all of the prior year. The pieces are all in place, they have the continuity edge over a few of their non-Juve competitors and the drive to get to Europe. I’m not predicting a title just yet, but second place is a realistic and ambitious goal.

dallagente: I’d want to see Roma aim for the title, but my head says even a second-placed finish is a tough ask. Fiorentina may have done a radical rebuild of their team this summer, but they’ve signed nothing but players used to winning titles in top leagues like England and Spain. Technically, both Fiorentina and Juventus look like they have the better squads. So I’d settle for another third place when it boils down to it. I hope for more but I think it’s perfectly understandable if that’s where Roma finish up.

2. What has to go right in order for that prediction to come true?

Bren: The biggest factor to me is the continued development of the U-23s. Roma didn’t do much on the market—they really only bought one starter—so a lot of their year-to-year development will hinge on the strides players like Bonfantini, Giugliano, Swaby, Serturini and Greggi take. They have as much natural talent as any player in the league, but if Roma can challenge Juve and/or second place, they’ll need all of them to contribute immediately.

dallagente: To finish in the Top 2? Roma have to outwit the high-pressing game of Juve, Fiorentina and Milan. While also moving the ball around faster, and getting it to the frontline faster against the mid-table clubs. Then you’ve got to hope that the weather isn’t too bad on away trips. We don’t need more mudfests like the games away to Florentia or Empoli last season, where you quite literally have to dig out a result.

But I also agree with you, Bren. The women’s team is in a similar position to the men’s squad right now, in that the best shot at raising the performance levels if if the young talent matures. And Rachele Baldi has to be dynamite in goal.

Bren: Yeah, the state of the pitches in this league is another matter entirely, but maybe I’m being foolish, but Fiorentina doesn’t scare me that much. Roma has a relatively soft few weeks to start the season, so there’s plenty of time to build up momentum and if they can take points from Milan in that first matchup, all bets are off.

3. What internal factors could prevent that prediction from happening?

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

Bren: Well, if some of them backslide a bit, particularly the younger forwards, we might be in trouble. Then there are injuries of course, but I’ll be curious to see how Bavagnoli manages the midfield rotation. Like I’ve been saying for the past year or so, everything is in place for Roma to win this league, they just have to sort everything out and hope the players continue to grow.

Apart from injuries or some strange personnel quirks from Bavagnoli, I think Roma are masters of their own destiny.

dallagente: The worst thing is if Bavagnoli’s possession tactics break down again. The Roma backline was moving the ball with a lack of speed and confidence throughout the first two seasons. They’ve got to get more confident moving it around, as that’s crucial to Bavagnoli’s Plan A.

As far as the midfield goes, I think the worst thing would be an injury to Andrine Hegerberg. I’m not saying she’s the best, but she’s the one who works the hardest to make space for others to receive the ball.

Bren: yeah, that’s an excellent point. She’s really unique (in terms of skillsets) among the midfielders.

4. Juventus are probably still the favorites to win the league, what makes them so special and how can Roma (or any other club) close that gap?

Olympique Lyonnais v Juventus - Veolia Women Trophy Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Bren: Well, it’s not purely a matter of finances like we see in the men’s game, so that’s refreshing. I think they just have a good setup. From the facilities to the administration, they seem to be doing everything right. But the biggest feather in their cap is simply talent: they have, like, two-thirds of the Azzurre’s nominal starting eleven. That doesn’t hurt.

In order for any club to topple them, you pretty much have to be playing A+, 100% football all of the time. You can’t let up one bit.

dallagente: You’re right in that Juve absorbed the winning culture for the old Brescia women’s team, as soon as Juve became an official club in this league. I’d also say that Juventus are experts at creating a club atmosphere, and motivating players to feel like they’re aiming for the highest targets in the game. You have club stalwarts on the men’s side like Chiellini, Pirlo and even recent arrivals like De Sciglio putting over the female football stars at the club. Aurora Galli gets put over to the fans as the Andrea Pirlo of the women’s team, and Juve play in the J Stadium at least once a year for the showpiece match of the league against Fiorentina.

I’d like to see the Roma men’s team do more of the same. So far we’ve mostly had De Rossi pictured on the street with Annamaria Serturini, and not much else before DDR packed his bags for Boca.

We’re not asking for fireworks or for the club to promote fairytales, just Roma creating the kind of club-wide solidarity where it feels like everyone is rowing in the same direction. Look at Andrine Hegerberg openly giving props to Gonzalo Villar on Twitter. More of that would be good on both sides of the street.

Bren: Yeah, excellent points again. I’d say it’d be great to see the women play in the Olimpico, but I don’t even like watching the men in that cavernous stadium.

5. The top layer of the league (Juve, Roma, Milan and Fiorentina) is pretty well established by this point, but give us one of two candidates that could make a run at the top four.

FC Internazionale Women Training Session Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Bren: Well, I think it starts and ends with Inter Milan. They finished with a decent enough 19 points in their first season in Serie A and added Flaminia Simonetti (8 goals the past two years) and Illari Mauro (18 goals the past two years), so they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

dallagente: You said it. Inter don’t have a strong eleven, and they’ve even been beaten in their pre-season games so far, but they do have difference-makers in their lineup that could catch you cold on matchday. I’d throw in Napoli in there, too. They may be newly promoted by Napoli have spared no expense trying to throw together a competitive squad.

6. What position battle(s) in Roma’s training camp have you most intrigued? Do you expect any shocks to last season’s rotation?

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

Bren: Midfield is certainly the most obvious one, but I’ll say center back. Swaby likely has one spot locked down, but I’ll be curious to see who wins out between Osinachi Ohale, the new signing from Madrid, and the incumbent Tecla Pettenuzzo. There will be minutes to go around for sure, but Pettenuzzo was one of the surprises of the season last year and didn’t really do anything to lose her gig. Depth is great, of course, but I’m excited to see who wins the starting job.

dallagente: I feel the same away about Pettenuzzo, though her performances alternated between good and bad.

But I’m personally wanting to see if Giada Greggi can reclaim her place in midfield. I want to see what she’s learnt from spending a season on the sidelines. I’m also really intrigued by striker Serena Landa, who we nearly mentioned in our U-23 countdown and who’s been given a senior squad number this year. If Lazaro or Serturini can’t find the goals quick enough, then Landa or Corelli might get their opportunity to step in.

Finally, I want to see if Angelica Soffia surprises everyone taking on Kaja Erzen at right-back.

Bren: Wow, I thought for sure you’d say keeper. I like Ceasar, but she probably has zero room for error. I don’t know a ton about Baldi, but she seems like all business. If she gets a chance, I doubt she looks back.

7. Who is one player you want to see the most improvement from this season? (Roma player)

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

Bren: I wouldn’t say “improvement” but I’d like to see how Annamaria Serturini bounces back. From the club’s leading scorer in ‘18-’19 to becoming somewhat of a second fiddle last season, she’s run the gamut in only two years. On her day, she’s as explosive as they come but she struggled to find a spot behind Lindsey Thomas, Agnese Bonfantini, Andressa and occasionally Thestrup last season.

dallagente: I’d like to see Pettenuzzo grow physically, Manuela Giugliano get more varied in her passing to truly dominate games, and Kaja Erzen defend balls in the air better. Do those three things and it’ll be a record-breaking points season for Roma.

Bren: Like, literal growth? She’s only 20, that’s entirely possible..haha.

8. What, if any, changes must Betty Bavagnoli make to push the team over the fourth-place hump?

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

Bren: Pure and simple, she has to find a way to beat Milan and Juventus. Roma have gone toe to toe with Fiorentina thus far, but haven’t been able to make a dent against Milan and Juventus. She has a lot of tools at her disposal, so it’s up to her to keep them fresh and figure out a way to bombard those top two sides when the time comes. On paper, they have enough speed and killer instinct to make life difficult for Juve and Milan but haven’t been able to put it together yet.

dallagente: Absolutely no arguments from me there. What more is there to say? Beat your rivals. Make them think twice about pressing you so aggressively on the ball.

9. Prediction time: Give us Roma’s leading scorer and assist-woman.

AC Milan v AS Roma - Women Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Bren: Scorer: Bonfantini with 13 goals. Assists: Andressa with 8.

dallagente: Leading scorer: Lindsey Thomas. Assists: tempted to say Andressa, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was also Lindsey Thomas.

10. Finally, predict the top four spots on the table and the top four goalscorers league wide.

Juventus Women v Servette Women - Friendly Match Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Bren: For the table, I’m going to say: Juventus, Roma, Milan, Fiorentina. For the scorers, I’ll say Girelli, Giacinti, Sabatino and Bonfantini.

dallagente: I always overshoot on the predictions when it comes to the men’s team, so this time I’m going to be cautious. I think it’ll be 1. Juventus 2. Fiorentina 3. Roma 4. Milan. Top league scorers will be Girelli, Thomas, Bonetti, Giacinti and Bonfantini. Yes somehow we’ll have two of the league’s top 5 scorers and yet still finish third.

Bren: That’s entirely possible. You can grab goals in bunches against the lesser sides, so I wouldn’t be shocked.

Roma kick off the 2020-2021 season on Sunday against Sassuolo. Look for our matchday coverage starting tomorrow.