With 10 goals scored and zero conceded through four matches, it's no wonder that Juventus have started the 2021-2022 Serie A Femminile season with an unblemished record. A perfect start to the season is nothing new for the three-time reigning champions of course but were it not for a COVID-19 outbreak in the Inter Milan camp canceling their round four fixture, Roma would have been nipping at the Old Lady's heels. While they don't sport the same flawless goal differential, new manager Alessandro Spugna has the Giallorosse off to a flying start, winning all three of their matches while boasting a healthy +7 goal differential.
Roma vs. Juventus: October 2nd. 14:30 CET/8:30 EDT. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
Juventus still holds historical sway over Roma, but after squeaking past their northern neighbors in last season's Coppa Italia—which Roma went on to win after defeating AC Milan in penalties last spring—the Giallorosse seem to have exorcised that particular demon. And with a cadre of impressive new signings in tow, Spugna's side is firmly in the fight for one of Italy's two Champions League places.
An upset victory over Juventus would go a long way towards strengthening Roma's case as legitimate top-of-the-table contenders, so let's take a look at some of the key storylines in Saturday's match.
Keep An Eye On
The Linari Factor
Despite Roma advancing past Juve last spring on their way to claiming the 2021 Coppa Italia crown, the black and white bunch have dominated this matchup over the past three seasons, particularly in league play. While Roma has had some measured success against Juve in other competitions, in their prior five league encounters, Juventus has dominated Roma to the tune of a 5-0-0 record, while outscoring the Giallorosse 14-1.
While the margins between these two clubs haven't been completely erased, we can pinpoint the exact moment they started to narrow: January 14, 2021, the day Roma signed Elena Linari from Bordeaux. The Italian international is one of the best defenders in women's football and instantaneously transformed Roma's defense, which saw their average goals conceded drop from 1.21 per match to 0.88 per match during her first six months with the club.
We can't establish an exact causal relationship of course, but since Linari's debut with Roma, the margins between the capital club and Juventus have shrunk. To wit: In their prior three matches, Juventus swept Roma while outscoring them 10-2, but since her arrival, that gap has narrowed to 5-4. While Juve has won two of those three matches, thanks to Linari's presence, the outcome no longer feels predetermined.
That may sound wishy-washy, but when you consider how thoroughly Juventus has dominated this series (and the league in general), this progress, no matter how incremental, is just that: progress.
Betty Bavagnoli has done a phenomenal job improving the squad during her first summer as the club's Head of Women's Football, but Roma's incumbent defensive partnership, Linari and Allyson Swaby, is among the best in the league and will give the Giallorosse a fighting chance to notch their first-ever league victory over Juventus.
But it's going to take a lot more than a stingy defense to win this match...
Benny and The Jets
Thanks to her scorching hot start to the season, Benedetta Glionna, who debuted with Juventus several years ago, has had a Linari-like impact on Roma's offense. With one goal and three assists in only 247 minutes, Glionna has been exactly as advertised: dynamic, creative, and impactful. After breaking through with Juve in 2017, Glionna spent multiple seasons on loan with Verona and later Empoli, so she may not be particularly aggrieved against her former employer, but she may be motivated to prove she was the real prize in the trade for Agnese Bonfantini.
We can't draw a straight line between Glionna's arrival and Roma's improved offensive output—only Milan can top Roma's three goals per match average—but her impact has been undeniable. Thanks to her skill on the ball and familiarity with Spugna's tactics from their time at Empoli last season, Glionna impacts matches from a variety of positions and angles. When she drifts centrally, she's shown an ability to link up with striker Valeria Pirone, exchanging passes and working give and goes around the edge of the area, and when she stays in wider areas, she's equally adept at dribbling around defenders or whipping in crosses towards the near post.
If we view modern football as an increasingly positionless sport, Glionna may be the archetype attacker, capable of facilitating and finishing in equal measure. And thanks to her impressive skill set and physical attributes, she can bring these traits to bear nearly anywhere on the pitch.
But Roma has plenty of weapons, players like Valeria Pirone, Andressa Alves, Annamaria Serturini, and Manuela Giugliano, to name a few. And they will need them all to keep pace with Juventus on Saturday, largely because of...
Cristiana Girelli... Self-Explanatory
With 54 goals in her last 60 league appearances, Cristiana Girelli has made Serie A her personal playground. And five of those strikes have come against Roma—more than any other Juve player—making her the Giallorosse's worst nightmare.
There's no real narrative here, she's just terrifying. With the space between the two clubs shrinking by the year, this match may very well come down to one moment, one touch, and one shot. And if Girelli is in the driver's seat, there may be nothing Roma can do to stop her.
But with Linari leading the defense and Glionna providing punch at the other end, for the first time ever, Roma may have the last laugh.