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Sinners & Saints: Sassuolo vs. Roma

A rant on Manuela Giugliano’s Roma form. But encouraging signs from Bartoli, Bonfantini and Lazaro.

As Roma Women

Did Sassuolo realise they were making it too easy? Or did Roma shut down too soon?

Wherever the truth lies, last night’s 1-1 draw wasn’t enough to leave anyone satisfied with what went down at the Enzo Ricci stadium. Incidentally, one surprise positive of playing behind closed doors is the decision to move the women’s game into the main club stadia. And it looks much better for it, from Fiorentina’s demolition of Inter on Saturday at the Artemio Franchi to last night’s stalemate.

Yesterday truly was a game of two halves, with Roma opening up the first by building up constant strength in numbers on the flanks that helped to empty out the middle of the pitch.

In the first half, Roma outnumbered their opponents on the flanks to keep the ball high in Sassuolo’s half.

With the pressing high and the passing fast, Roma’s midfield played like more of a flat three and even released Giugliano to play more like an attacking midfielder linking up with the frontline. But then Sassuolo woke up at half time to shut down the flanks, and everything changed.

The second half was a completely different story. Sassuolo overwhelmed Roma with strength in numbers and kept the Giallorosse pinned back in their own half.

In our first ever S & S recap of the women’s team, who came out with flying colours? And who has to go back to the drawing board?

The Sinners

Kaja Erzen

As Roma Women

It wasn’t all bad for Erzen, who may have fancied her chances of going on to have a stellar game after her role in putting Roma 1-0 up on the night. Roma’s right-back didn’t hesitate to collect a second-ball out wide, floating it in to assist Paloma Lazano’s opening goal in the 20th minute. But that’s the lion’s share of anything good we can say about Erzen’s night.

Erzen is OK when afforded space to work her next pass - the kind of space Sassuolo gave Roma on the flanks in abundance during last night’s first 45 - but when she’s put under physical pressure on the ball, the right-back’s confidence vanishes.

The end result was Erzen playing with her head down in the second half, failing to move the ball up field and defensively allowing most of Sassuolo’s threat to come down her wing. She was passed around and caught on her feet in the build-up to Sassuolo’s equalizer.

Giada Greggi

She may be the reigning Young Player of the Year in Italy, but when’s the last time you saw Greggi truly comfortable at Serie A level?

In Roma colors, Greggi’s star is fading at a serious rate. Instead of growing stronger from her apprenticeship on the sidelines, the Roman baller looks off the pace and awkward in all phases of the game. Hopefully it’s just early season rust, but yesterday was a no-show from Greggi, when called off the bench to try and help Roma regain control of the match.

Manuela Giugliano

As Roma Women

Roma coach Betty Bavagnoli has gambled the team’s chemistry on her star-midfielder, but nothing could be more emblematic than a piece of commentary on Roma TV in the 64th minute last night: “Bavagnoli is getting angry because she’s asked the team to play the ball. Not to just kick it away and let the other side win it back.”

Less than a minute later, Roma’s playmaker Giugliano finds herself in time and space on the ball and is faced with three options: a short forward pass to Cicotti, a short yet great opportunity to pass it forward to Hegerberg into space (who is calling for it at her feet), and the significantly harder option of sending it long and wide to put Bonfantini in a duel against the backline (where nothing but top-class ball control from Bonfantini would have left the forward outnumbered before long).

For reasons only known to her, Giugliano chose the latter.

To illustrate how far apart Manu’s playing style is from what Bavagnoli is asking of Roma on the sidelines, we manually piled up the individual passing stats. Because why not?

(*Sidenote: We defined a long pass as a pass over 30 yards or more. A key pass was defined as one that put a teammate into at least a one-on-one situation in the opposition half, or gave a teammate the numbers advantage in the opponent’s half).

Giugliano Passing - First Half

Total passes: 31
Short and medium passes: 22
Long passes: 9
Passes completed: 16
Long passes completed: 1
Key Passes: 3

Giugliano Passing - Second Half

Total passes: 13
Short and medium passes: 8
Long passes: 5
Passes completed: 8
Long passes completed: 1
Key Passes: 0

With Roma on top and Giugliano looking far more involved in the first half, her passing was made up of 70% short and medium passes; she reserved the rest for long ball attempts that delivered just 11% long-ball success, dragging her overall passing completion down to 51%.

Despite the good 3 key passes at the heart of Roma’s play, Manu’s overall errant passing put an extra workload on the rest of the team. There’s no better example than in the 38th minute of the first half:

Giugliano forces the play and ends up giving the ball, in a situation where Roma could easily play it short and maintain a big threat on Sassuolo’s backline.

In the above play, Giugliano could play it short to put Bonfantini in between the lines. Roma would then be free to run onto Sassuolo’s backline and play any combination of Bonfantini-Lazaro-Bernauer (running through to goal on the far side) to try and get in on goal. But instead, Giugliano chooses to bypass that with the most direct (and hardest) option: a left-foot, long-range pass to try and meet Bernaeur’s run on the far side.

The end result was Giugliano turned over possession to Sassuolo, and gave Bonfantini even more work to do:

Agnese Bonfantini has to track back a further 50-60 yards to help Bartoli out after Roma lose the ball up the other end.

Bonfantini, after just having run 10 yards further upfield to try and join in the attack, has to change direction and run a further 50-60 yards back downfield to help Bartoli double-team and Roma recover from giving the ball away. All this in less than half a minute’s worth of action.

We see it too often since Giugliano’s arrival a year ago: Making the Roma team run and chase the ball more than necessary. Is it really any wonder Bavagnoli is forced to substitute Lazaro and Bonfantini by the second half?

The wider question mark is on Bavagnoli, as unfair as that may be. If the coach cannot get the best of her star-signing, then it could be Bavagnoli that pays for it with her job before anyone else does.

In the second half, Giugliano did seem to trust teammates Andressa and Hegerberg more than Roma’s #10 put faith in Ciccotti or Bernaeur earlier on. But by the time Andressa and Hegerberg found any rhythm in the match, Roma were mentally a spent force.

The Saints

Elisa Bartoli

Having watched the matched twice over, we can’t remember having seen any threat coming down Elisa Bartoli’s flank. The Roma captain almost always comes out on top defensively, adjusted her position to fill in the spaces when Roma up against a Sassuolo counter-attack, and was heavily involved at the other end of the pitch, too.

Bartoli put the exclamation mark on her performance by clearing the ball off the line in the second half, twice in the space of under 90 seconds. Though the first chance wouldn’t have happened if Bartoli hadn’t been outwitted by her marker to start.

So just the 9.5 out of 10 match rating, then.

Agnese Bonfantini

As Roma Women

Bonfantini will be wanting Saints mentions for very different performances than the one last night, but an impeccable game as a link-up player is an impeccable game all the same.

We covered a lot of what was great about Bonfantini’s performance earlier when looking at Giugliano. Not that we wouldn’t rather Bonfantini grab the headlines for being put through on goal and burying it in the back of the net but, when the cards don’t fall that way, it’s great to see Agnese adapt to circumstance.

The Roma forward never failed to shoulder-barge, track back, double-team in defence and double-team in attack. Bonfantini gave Roma the edge all over the pitch, often popping up in space on the flanks to flick the ball on to new partner-in-crime Lazaro.

This was high-end stuff from Bonfantini, in areas of her game where she’s not yet known to excel before last night. There was no surprise that Agnese was left trying to shake off cramp in the 65th minute of the game, after fighting to get on the end of a Giugliano long-ball out wide in that same moment. Bonfantini was fouled (and floored to the ground) for her troubles by a Sass defender, before the #22 was immediately subbed off.

It was a day where Agnese did the job for others to look good. The team owes her one.

Paloma Lazaro

An excellent debut from a player who provided the workrate. presence and combined it with constant movement across all three lanes of attack, laced with the Spaniard’s confidence in possession on top.

Lazaro swivelled in space to find the right passing option whenever she could, or sometimes even traded first-time backheel flicks with Bonfantini to keep the attack fast and Sassuolo off their feet. And Lazaro was audibly calling for teammates to help her keep the pressing high and collective, whenever Roma didn’t have the ball.

This looks like the perfect signing of an international forward who’s both long on experience and technique, and yet still in her prime. But it’s too early to tell; the downside of her debut was lasted barely over 50 minutes.

We hope to see more of Lazaro.