While Roma has made incremental progress throughout their brief three-year existence, they still have two massive bugaboos troubling them: Juventus, who they still haven't managed to defeat in a regular-season match, and AC Milan. The Rossonere have dominated the league fixtures between the two clubs but the last time Roma and Milan met on the pitch, the Giallorosse got the last laugh, downing Milan on penalties to win the Coppa Italia, the first trophy in club history.
Roma will retain those bragging rights as long as the Earth keeps spinning, but Milan, much like Juventus, has never lost to Roma in league play. However, the Giallorosse have steadily shrunk that gap over the years, watching the lopsided 4-1 and 3-0 scorelines of the earliest days of this rivalry give way to some incredibly taught fixtures: 3-2 (to Milan), 1-0 (to Milan), and 0-0. So yes, Roma still hasn't managed to beat Milan in Serie A, but the margins between these clubs are razor-thin.
Milan vs. Roma: October 10th. 12:30 CET/6:30 EDT. Stadio Visimara, Milan
The question of whether or not Roma can finally get that dub will likely rest on a few key matchups, so let's take a look at some of the major storylines in this round six fixture.
Keep An Eye On
Linari/Swaby vs. Giacinti
Just as they did last weekend against Juventus, Roma's center-back pairing, Allyson Swaby and Elena Linari, will have their hands full with another superstar Italian striker. While they managed to keep Cristiana Girelli under wraps last weekend, Saturday's matchup is an entirely different beast altogether.
With 54 goals over her past 63 league appearances, Valentina Giaciniti continues to set the pace for Serie A forwards, and with five of those tallies coming against Roma, the 27-year-old striker has made mincemeat of Roma's backline over the past three seasons. And with six goals already, Giacinti is well on her way to another 18 to 20 goal season.
Without the benefit of shot charts and other advanced analytics, we can't really say for certain where Giacinti has done the most damage, but she is remarkably adept at finding and exploiting the tiniest crevices in the final third, so Linari and Swaby can't afford to miss a single beat tomorrow.
Verónica Boquete vs. Everyone
If Giacinti is among the best finishers in the league (she is), then Spanish midfielder Verónica Boquete is among the best facilitators in the league (she is). With seven assists over her past 1,600 league minutes, Boquete has transitioned to life in Serie A with aplomb, pulling the strings in the heart of Milan's 3-4-2-1 formation. And making matters worse, she's found her shooting boots this year, bagging two goals in little more than 400 minutes.
Cutting the tether between Boquete and Giacinti will be Roma's top defensive priority on Saturday. However, the first line of defense actually rests in midfield, where players like Giada Greggia, Vanessa Bernauer, or former Milan midfielder Thaisa Moreno can make life miserable for Boquete before she even approaches the edge of the area. Swarming Boquete and forcing her into hasty decisions and passes will, in turn, throw off Giaciniti's timing and positioning, grinding the Milan machine to a halt.
This is all easier said than done of course, but while Milan is a deep team, this is one instance in which we can pinpoint the two players likely to cause harm. Giacinti and Boquete are two of the most talented players in the league; stop them and you stop Milan.
Roma Needs to Score... Plain and Simple
Any statistical discussion of the Giallorosse attack this season must reckon with two factors: the 3-0 win over Empoli in round one, where Empoli scored three own goals, and Roma's rescheduled round four fixture against Inter Milan. Due to those two peculiarities, the Giallorosse's offensive numbers don't quite stack up to the league's best sides, and when you couple that with the practically non-existent margin between these two clubs, this match will almost definitely be decided by one goal—Roma must score that goal.
That's a rather glib assessment to end things on, but there's no way to church it up: this fixture has shrunk to a one-goal difference and if Roma ever hopes to push past Milan in the league hierarchy, they must defeat them in Serie A.