Alessandro Spugna faced some incredibly lofty expectations after taking the Roma managerial reins from Betty Bavagnoli earlier this year. As the only manager in the club's brief history, Bavagnoli took the seed of an idea (bringing AS Roma into the world of women's football) and watched it blossom into a fully formed entity complete with its own customs and standards. By successfully establishing a culture of respect, accountability, and high expectations, Bavagnoli's imprint on the club was already secure, but she still managed to leave on a high note, securing the club's first trophy after defeating AC Milan in penalties to claim the 2021 Coppa Italia last May.
Roma vs. Sassuolo: October 31st. 12:30 CET/7:30 EDT. Campo Di Bartolomei, Trigoria
With the core of the team intact and a few shiny new toys added to the mix, Spugna's tenure in the capital got off to a roaring start as the Giallorosse ripped off three consecutive victories to start the season. Roma looked as good as ever but with the additions of Valeria Pirone and Benedetta Glionna in attack and a full season with Elena Linari in defense, it finally felt like Roma had enough firepower to contend with the likes of Juventus and AC Milan.
However, Roma has hit the skids over the past few weeks, dropping points in their last three fixtures: a heart-breaking, last-minute loss to Juventus, a tough 1-1 draw against Milan, and a disappointing one-nil defeat to Inter Milan. And with Roma playing host to league-leading Sassuolo, it won't get any easier on Sunday.
Thanks to that poor run of form, Roma has seen their top-of-the-table hopes dashed for the moment, as they enter this round seven fixture mired in fifth place, eight points adrift of first-place Sassuolo and second-place Juventus. Roma versus Sassuolo is always a cagey affair, but scoring an upset over the Neroverde will not only make for some juicy headlines, but it would also throw Roma right back into the Champions League qualification mix with Sassuolo, Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter.
However, given the compact nature of the Serie A Femminile table and Roma's historic inability to defeat the league's top sides, a loss tomorrow will probably spell the end of the club's Champions League hopes for next season; only the top two clubs qualify and over the past two seasons, those clubs have dropped points in only nine matches...combined.
For ambitious clubs at the top of the table, there is no margin for error, so let's take a look at a few keys to a possible upset on Sunday.
What to Watch For
Can Roma Stop Cantore and Cleland?
Whether you're aware of it or not, your local chamber of commerce likely has a “sister city” in some far-flung part of the world; a city that resembles your hometown in some shape or form. While football clubs don't have twins, over the past three seasons Roma and Sassuolo have been inextricably linked, never separated by more than two spots on the table. Roma has gotten the better of Sassuolo in four of their past six meetings, but the Neroverde left Roma in their rearview mirror last season, finishing 13 points ahead of the Giallorosse—the biggest gap between the two clubs in their three-year shared history.
With an unblemished record, the league's most potent attack, and its second-stingiest defense, Sassuolo have willed themselves into a legitimate Scudetto threat. Entering Matchday 7, Sassuolo's 16 goals set the league pace and 50% of those strikes have come from two players: 22-year-old Sofia Cantore (five goals) and 28-year-old Lana Clelland (three goals).
Sometimes these spaces require a nuanced discussion of how Roma can stop an opponent but every now and then the narrative writes itself. If Roma has any chance at victory tomorrow at Trigoria, they must put the clamps on Sassuolo's dynamic duo.
Will Roma's Attack Wake Up?
With 11 goals of their own, Roma's attack isn't that far behind Sassuolo's, but when you consider the fact that three of those 11 goals were own goals—all from Roma's opener against Empoli—the rose loses a bit of its bloom. After putting four past Napoli in round two, Roma's attack has gone bankrupt, scoring only four goals over their past four matches.
Considering the level of attacking talent on this squad, and the fact that Spugna piloted Empoli to the joint-second most goals last season, Roma fans should be incredibly concerned. Spugna's tactical approach and Roma's bevy of creative and pacey forwards should make the Giallorosse's attack the envy of the league, but the women of Rome are in danger of squandering all that talent and potential—and it could come home to roost tomorrow.
With four of their past six matchups requiring two or more goals to claim victory, a Roma-Sassuolo match tends to produce a lot of action, but they've also been incredibly close affairs as four of the past six matches were also decided by one goal. If that sounds a bit confusing, just think of it this way: this match will probably produce at least three goals and two of those better be Roma's.
A victory tomorrow won't make Roma automatic title contenders, but it would put them on 13 points, potentially only five away from the league's second and final Champions League spot, the next logical step in their development.
It will take everything Roma has, including plenty of goals, but a win tomorrow could set them on the right path.