Last weekend's victory over Pink Bari was many things for Roma: their first victory of the season, a correction of the ills that plagued them against Sassuolo in week one, and just a flat-out dominant performance from the Giallorosse. While Pink Bari were able to withstand a barrage of shots from Roma throughout the first half, it wasn't long before the stronger side revealed itself. With a penalty from Andressa and a beautifully threaded ball from Andrine Hegerberg to Paloma Lazaro in the box, Roma won the day 2-0, putting together precisely the sort of 90 minute, high intensity football we've been craving for weeks.
Using a bottom dwelling side to boost one's confidence is Football 101—it's what you're supposed to do—but this week's opponent is decidedly tougher. After gaining promotion to Serie A last season, Empoli were one of the few surprises in the abbreviated 2019-2020 season, finishing in eighth place.
Empoli vs. Roma: September 5th. 17:45 CET/11:45 EDT. Stadio Monteboro, Empoli.
Empoli aren't likely to crack the top five in Serie A Femminile, but they've been awfully impressive through two rounds of play. After shellacking newly promoted San Marino 10-0 in round one, Empoli had the misfortune of facing reigning champions Juventus on the road last week. But rather than simply rolling over against the Old Lady, Empoli held Juve in check for much of the match and would have snatched a stunning 3-3 draw were it not for a 90th minute penalty converted by Cristiana Girelli—one of two she scored last week.
I'm not one for moral victories, but Empoli played the champs about as tough as anyone we've seen over the past three seasons; putting three past Laura Giuliani and that backline is a monumental achievement.
And it's one that didn't go unnoticed by Roma manager Betty Bavagnoli:
We are going up against a really well-drilled side, they are always organised and well prepared...I’ve already had the chance to congratulate the coach for that, because we played them during pre-season. It will be a tough game, a really tough game.
I’m expecting the players to show patience. We need to try to control the game and make sure we play our style – but above all we need to be balanced and try and limit the errors we make, and try to ensure we restrict Empoli in the areas they are strong as much as possible.
So, yes, I’m expecting a game where we will need to show a lot of patience and maturity
Controlling the game and playing “their style” hasn't really been an issue through two rounds, save for the second half against Sassuolo. We've said it many times in these spaces, but Roma is arguably the fastest team in the league, so it hasn't really been hard for Bavagnoli's bunch to put their stamp on the pitch.
The problem, as we saw in the second half against Sassuolo, is simply their ability to maintain that intensity for a full 90 minutes, and to stick with “their style” when the goals aren't coming. Pumping in shot after shot only to be denied or to see their shots sail just wide has a tendency to ramp up the anxiety, which tends to lead to hasty decision making—rushed shots, speculative long balls and just a general feeling of unease.
And that's precisely why last week's victory was so impressive. Roma dominated Pink Bari in the first half but, just like the prior week against Sassuolo, couldn't find any real cracks in their defense. However, rather than succumbing to the frustration and anxiety brought on by Bari's super human defense, with one simple change Roma were able to “stick to their style” and then some.
By inserting Paloma Lazaro into the center-forward position in place of Lindsey Thomas, Betty Bavagnoli not only maintained Roma's athletic advantage but gave her squad a new reference point; someone around whom the creative chaos caused by Roma's other forwards could revolve. Simply having Lazaro as a focal point in the area ensured that Roma would avoid those pitfalls; there were no desperate long balls over the top and no one attempting to play one vs. eleven. Instead, Roma stuck to the plan: flex your athletic muscles out wide, move the ball quickly through the neutral areas and keep the ball moving in the final third—and it worked like gangbusters.
Empoli are a decidedly tougher squad than Bari at the back and definitely pack more punch up top, as evidenced by their 13 goals through two matches. Considering all that, Bavagnoli was spot-on with her pre-match comments: Roma will have to be patient. Not only will they have to “stick to their style” but they'll need an extra layer of patience to break down a decidedly tougher Empoli side this afternoon.
Can they do it? We're about to find out...