Games like these might be a different kind of test for Roma’s mentality, but it was a test all the same. It was one thing for Bari to sit back deep all game and try to defend a point, but to do it in summer weather a shade under 30° Celsius was another complication altogether. Despite that, Roma held their nerve through a dominant performance for a thoroughly deserved 2-0 home victory.
The manner of the win, let alone the performance, meant Week 2 delivers an All Saints Day, as we rewatched the Giallorosse tale of the tape this morning.
Still yet to hit 21 years of age later this year, Tecla Pettenuzzo knows how good she already is in possession and loves to toy with opponents who dare to try and close her down. A feint with the left, a feint with the right and Pettenuzzo buys herself space under any circumstance, before helping Roma move the ball up field once again. Only one slip-up on the ball just before half time blotted an otherwise immaculate day on the ball.
Roma did well to sign ball-playing defender Pettenuzzo in her development years, as it’ll be hell of a lot more difficult to sign the kind of player Tecla could become in her prime. Behind the scenes, her competition for a starting spot is warming up in the form of new signing Osinache Ohale.
With Ohale’s work permit finally confirmed, the Nigerian defender played in Roma Primavera’s Saturday 4-1 win to get game time in Ohale’s legs. But performances like yesterday from Pettenuzzo will give Bavagnoli serious second thoughts about taking Tecla out of the first eleven.
That change may still happen against teams where Roma need top-notch defending in the air, but Pettenuzzo looks to have grown (physically and mentally) on that front, too.
Roma’s Makeshift “Midfield” Five
It’s hard to single out anyone of Allyson Swaby, Tecla Pettenuzzo (even though we just did), Manuela Giugliano or Vanessa Bernauer for praise. Then you add Andrine Hegerberg’s key interventions from off the bench, and where to begin?
If Swaby and Pettenuzzo looked assured in possession, it was thanks to both defenders working with one of either Giugliano or Bernauer dropping deep to string a few passes together, before one of the four would find an opening to put Roma’s front six back into the danger zones of Bari’s half.
Bernauer’s rejuvenation as a ball-winning midfielder in this side continues, and Bernie’s understanding with Agnese Bonfantini meant the Swiss midfielder carved open at least 3 clear-cut chances for the Roma frontline yesterday.
Meanwhile, Giugliano trusted her teammates more and varied her passing from short to long. Manu’s love of the long ball looked more fitting in this game, as it often came just after one of her teammates tried to play it short. The variety of passing never let a deep-lying Bari side park the bus, or anticipate what Roma’s next move would be.
This was all topped of by Andrine Hegerberg coming off the bench, delivering a dangerous set-piece, a dangerous open play cross, and then finally a decisive assist in an elaborate 1-2 with Palamo Lazaro for Roma’s second goal.
Andressa is a street-footballer from the 80s and 90s old-school in many ways, from her comfort with the ball to beefing with Bari keeper Paula Myllyoja in the immediate aftermath of Andressa’s opening goal yesterday.
It took a second viewing to understand why Andressa was so determined to get up in Myllyoja’s face after dispatching a penalty for 1-0, but then you look at the Myllyoja pre-penalty antics and you get it. Andressa gesturing that the keeper talks too much was classic—an act that would get you booked in the over-sterilized men’s side of the sport right now.
But then there was Andressa’s all-round play that, in the words of Roma TV’s commentator, makes her “undroppable” in this team. She’s a true number 10 (or maybe even a Falcao-style number 5) playing her teammates into pockets of space to keep the whole Giallorosse engine purring.
There was a moment in the first half where Andressa received a straight ball to feet, looked up and recognized she missed her cue to pass it to the front-line, swiveled on the ball, dribbled past an onrushing opponent, and then played a near-blind pass to release Kaja Erzen into a 3 v 1 situation on the opposite side of the pitch. This all in less than 3 seconds of play.
It’d be different if Andressa were the type to dwell on the ball and make an elaborate show of her technical superiority, but not so. Roma’s players never have to check their runs in the minimal time Andressa takes to find the best answer.
Only the surreal decision to ignore Agnese Bonfantini standing free inside the box, in the first half, and go for a shot on goal herself stands as the blot on the Andressa’s copybook.
Performances like Serturini’s yesterday are the reminder that tactics-talk will always come a distant second to the emotive side of football. Truthfully, Serturini still looks just as isolated as ever in this Roma team. Her impact on the game was irregular, came in spades... and yet it was still key getting Roma across the finish line against Bari.
Five minutes into the game, it was Serturini on the edge of Bari’s box that warmed up Myllyoja’s gloves and got Roma’s tails up in the first half. Still stuck at 0-0 in the 66th minute of the game, and the Giallorosse ever-so-slightly starting to wonder if a breakthrough would ever come, Serturini drives up field, glides past an opponent at full speed and sends a shot crashing against the underside of the bar to get Roma’s heads and hearts back into top gear.
Just minutes after that effort, a rejuvenated Roma went 1-0 up.
It’s strange to say for a player who often looks at odds with the team’s tactical makeup, but the three points likely wouldn’t have come without Serturini pulling out her sniper scope from long range yesterday.
Roma’s frontline has been a walking medical department this summer; Lazaro pulled up through pain in the pre-match warmup, Lindsey Thomas played with heavy strapping on her thigh due to a mid-week injury, and Serturini’s still recovering from calf problems. The Giallorosse can be thankful then, that Bonfantini is handling the workload like it’s just another day in the park on that right flank.
Never has a player looked like a menace to the opposition, while exuding the kind of composure that barely fits into the bigger picture of Bonfantini throwing opponents into constant chaos. It’s enough to look at the moment where Bonfantini runs into the box in the first half to get on the end of Lindsey Thomas’ cutback pass from the byline.
Two Bari defenders try launching themselves physically at either end of a Bonfantini-sandwich, and it still wasn’t enough to stop Agnese getting on the end of that pass. The defenders were left watching helpless from the ground, as Agnese kept her balance and composure (almost as if nothing had happened) to shoot on goal. Only a world-class reaction save from the Bari keeper tipped Bonfantini’s effort wide.
Goals may have still eluded Bonfantini this week, but her complicity with the rest of the team has stepped up a huge degree from what we’ve seen in the past two seasons.
Another brief example: Pettenuzzo caught high in possession in the first half, and Bonfantini showing no hesitation to sense the danger over her shoulder and track back to plug the space.
Bonfantini doesn’t over-do it with the tracking back like you see a lot of forwards do when they’re trying to over-compensate for simply moving too late. Instead, Bonfantini is just moving with the team and moving ahead of time, taking away options from the opponent and giving those same options back to Roma all over the pitch.
How else can we say it? This is top-level sh*t from Agnese. It just needs the goals to put the headline on it.
Bonfantini will want to get on the scoresheet against Empoli next week, to make Milena Bertolini think hard about Italy’s starting eleven in September’s EURO 2022 qualifying games.
13th April 2019: Pink Bari travel to Trigoria to face Roma in the penultimate game of the season. Bari’s Spanish striker opens the scoring with a glancing header at the near post from a Bari corner. A.S. Roma would hit back to draw 1-1 that day, but there was a sense that the Giallorosse were finishing off their debut Serie A season needing a striker up front that could take them to the next level.
A year and some change later on, that very same Spanish striker was on the pitch delivering the same outcome. Oh yeah... different jersey.
Now Lazaro was both winning a penalty for Roma’s first and scoring Roma’s second against her former club Bari. After two years of searching, Betty Bavagnoli looks like she’s found the player to act as the tip of the spear for the Giallorosse frontline.
Perhaps what makes Lazaro stand out among the rest of Roma’s attackers, though, is how vocal she is in coordinating Roma’s pressing and gee-ing up her teammates, too. Lazaro’s will to win is second to none.
This was a determined performance against a Bari side that conceeded most of the pitch to Roma. As far as Bavagnoli wanting to see answers when it comes to Roma’s mental and emotional maturity, this wasn’t the kind of game to ask those questions.
It’ll be against the teams that look to take away time and space from Roma high and early - the teams further up the table that really get in your face - where Roma will be asked to maintain the same kind of belief and composure showed yesterday. On that note, next up for Roma is a Week 3 test against Empoli who gave Juventus a 3-4 scare just this past weekend.
Will Roma’s new keeper Rachele Baldi really stay on the bench for her return to native Tuscany? How will Roma do against a young Empoli frontline with the pace to match Roma’s own? Stay tuned for the coming week’s action.