We're only two weeks into the new Serie A Femminile season but the league table is already coalescing along its usual patterns: Juve at the top, followed closely by AC Milan and Fiorentina, though the Viola have yet to play their round two fixture. Roma may yet join that pack, but after last week's disappointing draw against Sassuolo, the Giallorosse have already dug themselves a hole; one which may grow insurmountable if they can't correct the mistakes that haunted them in last week's 1-1 draw against the Neroverdi.
In their opening round match against Sassuolo, Roma looked damn near unstoppable in the first half, winning loose balls, dictating the pace and location of play and forming quick and effective passing networks through the midfield and attack. And what's even better, one of their newest signings, forward Paloma Lazaro, put the club ahead in only the 20th minute thanks to a deftly struck header.
Roma set themselves up for a pretty one-sided afternoon, but their complete no-show in the second half allowed Sassuolo to seize control of the match and eventually grab an equalizer thanks to some quick passing and moving of their own. It was really only thanks to the grace and good timing of club captain Elisa Bartoli that Roma didn't completely lose the plot last week, as her two goal line clearances were the difference between a 1-1 draw and what could have easily de-escalated into a 3-1 defeat.
In the spirit of growth and reflection, Bavagnoli put in the dirty work this week, going through their draw with a fine toothed comb:
It was important that we were able to go over our mistakes and our approach in certain moments of the game against Sassuolo, along with our overall attitude
We’ve done that, we’ve reflected on the things we did wrong and the things we did well. It was important that we responded in the right way and in training this week I think we have done – now we have to take that into this second game of the season.
We shouldn’t forget that no game is easy. It can also happen that, after five months off, you aren’t quite able to do absolutely everything you planned to in the first game. After analysing the game, now we need to make sure we take a step forward.
Rather than focusing on actual tactics, Bavagnoli preferred to focus on her club's mental state:
We’ve worked on all the mistakes we made, including the tactical ones. But if are asking me for one improvement I want to see, then I would say it’s the mental aspect. We need to always show courage, always take responsibility – and that starts with me.
We need to know what we have to do, on the pitch and off it, even when things aren’t going well. We need to have the strength and courage to confront and cope with any situation.
If that sounds familiar, it should: mentality and focus have been a common theme through the club's first two seasons. The talent is there, and they certainly can take care of business against most clubs in the league, but there have been significant dips and lapses in form over the past two seasons. And in a league as tight as Serie A, those dips, even if they're only one match—or one half of a match—can damn the entire season.
And, lest we be accused of hyperbole, that's what's at stake...already.
While Empoli gave Juventus a bit of a scare yesterday, Cristiana Girelli and Barbara Bonansea did enough to push the two-time champs ahead of upstart Empoli. Milan, meanwhile, made quick work of San Marino in a 5-0 laugher. And if Fiorentina defeat Napoli on Sunday, then all three of Roma's chief rivals will start the new campaign off with six points.
Bari, who finished 11th and 10th the past two seasons, don't present much of a challenge on paper, but if Bavagnoli is as concerned about her club's mentality, strength and courage, nothing short of a thoroughly dominant 90 minute display will suffice.
In order to achieve that, she needs more consistency in several areas, but most notably from Manuela Giugliano in midfield and Kaja Erzen at right back. Giugliano is too talented to struggle for very long, but at certain points last season, and definitely in last week's match, there was a disconnect between Roma's award winning midfielder and their award winning coach. Perhaps focusing on simple, short passes rather than gunning for the glory ball will serve Giugliano well, but Roma's quick paced attack needs an equally quick and sound decision maker orchestrating everything—Giugliano can and has done that, but she seems to be struggling to see the forest for the trees, as it were.
As far as Erzen is concerned, while she did serve up a perfect cross to set up Paloma's goal last week, she was otherwise missing in action. Erzen is too tall, too strong and too athletic to be as exposed as she was last week, but far too often she vacated space to Sassuolo, was beaten off the ball and quite simply outworked by Sassuolo's wide forwards. She has all the physical tools necessary to be a threat for Roma, but wishy washy performances like last week just won't cut it—so let's hope it was just rust after five months off.
If Roma can win today, they'll stay within a manageable two points of the Juve-Milan-Fiorentina troika, but anything short of that and Roma are in for a long season and an incredibly tough fight to qualify for Europe.