If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then that adage found new meaning on May 30, 2021. On that overcast evening in Reggio Emilia, Roma and AC Milan met in the Citta del Tricolore to decide the 2021 Coppa Italia title; an honor neither club had ever claimed. Having just met three weeks earlier in league play, these two sides certainly weren't strangers, but instead of breeding contempt, that familiarity produced gridlock.
Ninety minutes of regulation, plus an additional half-hour of added extra time, came and went with neither club able to seize control of the match. So when the contest moved to penalties, Roma fans were understandably nervous. Having never defeated Milan, advancing to penalties in the cup final was a momentous occasion, but after containing the vaunted Milan attack for over two hours, anything short of victory would have rung hollow for Roma.
And that's the cruel twist of deciding titles on penalties; all logic and reason go out the window, with skill and planning replaced by random chance. But, little by little, that anxiety gave way to hope. First, there was Milan midfielder Veronica Boquete's misfire in round one, a low attempt that was smothered by Roma keeper Camelia Ceasar. Manuela Giugliano quickly followed that up with a no-nonsense strike to the lower left-hand corner to put Roma ahead, and while Milan managed to score in the next round, Annamaria Serturini put the Giallorosse out in front again, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
With Roma ahead 2-1 after the first two penalty rounds, Ceasar was once again called into action, denying a low effort from the foot of Scottish forward Christy Grimshaw. After Elena Linari failed to pad Roma's lead on the subsequent attempt, Milan full-back Linda Tucceri-Cimini had a chance to pull the Rossonere even. With her shot ripping through the evening air and seemingly destined to rifle straight through the goal itself, for a moment it seemed like all hope was lost, making the dull thud of the ball striking the post ring sweeter in the ears of many Roma fans.
Thanks to the cool heads of Ceasar, Giugliano, and Serturini, Roma's title hopes remained alive and well. With a chance to deliver the first trophy in club history, it was fitting the moment fell to Vanessa Bernauer, who has been with the club since its inception in 2018. After delicately placing the ball on the penalty spot, Bernauer slowly backed away, never lifting her gaze from the ball, her face the very picture of concentration as she carefully considered how to beat the keeper.
And with one swift strike of her right foot, Bernauer buried the ball in the back of the net, narrowly avoiding Mária Korenčiová's outstretched arms, delivering a euphoria Roma hadn't experienced in more than a decade. Bernauer's face beamed as she galloped around the pitch, leaving her teammates in the dust as they tried in vain to form a celebratory pile on top of the Swiss midfielder. Where her teammates failed, the cameras succeeded, capturing every tear-filled smile, every throaty scream, and every loving embrace shared as the club purged three years of frustrations in one moment of absolute elation.
But there was one image that truly spoke to the significance of this achievement: the look of pure, unadulterated joy on Elisa Bartoli's face as the club captain and local girl lifted the Coppa Italia high above her head. Her tear-stained cheeks and beet-red complexion seemed to communicate a sense of relief as if she were suddenly unburdened by an indescribable weight. And in that instant, Bartoli personified Francesco Totti's claim that one title in Rome is worth ten anywhere else.
Nella scorsa stagione il nostro cammino iniziò proprio a Tavagnacco.— Annamaria Serturini (@AnnaSerturini) November 19, 2021
Poi è finita così. ✨
Ora torniamo in campo per ripeterci e difenderla!
Sabato 20 Novembre
Live @romatv#ASRomaFemminile #CoppaItalia #TestaCuoreGambe #AS15 pic.twitter.com/paMwDyqIbc
And here we are, nearly six months to the day after Bernauer delivered the first title in club history, and Roma is set to begin their title defense against Serie B side Tavagnacco. So if you'll forgive this extremely buried lede, let's take a quick look at a few possible keys to victory tomorrow.
Keep An Eye On
Spugna's Squad Rotation
While he hasn't been subject to the same level of lineup scrutiny as José Mourinho, new manager Alessandro Spugna does appear to have a few favorites. Through his first nine matches at the helm, Spugna has leaned heavily on veterans like Bartoli, Giugliano, Ceasar, Allyson Swaby, and Andressa Alves, to name a few. And while you underestimate opponents at your peril, there may still be room to tinker against Tavagnacco without jeopardizing Roma's chances of victory.
Spugna isn't likely to make wholesale changes tomorrow, but considering the level of the opponent (and Roma's historic success against Tavagnacco), we may see a few isolated changes. As is customary in early-round cup matches, the backup goalkeeper should get a spot start, so look for Rachele Baldi to get the nod tomorrow, while Angelica Soffia should temporarily grab the right-back reins from Lucia Di Guglielmo. In the middle of the park, Claudia Ciccotti and Giguliano will comprise the double pivot with Giada Greggi likely to serve as the advanced playmaker. And further afield, Paloma Lázaro could start at striker ahead of Valeria Pirone, giving the 32-year-old Italian international a breather.
Even with a patchwork lineup, Roma should breeze past Tavagnacco, but these tiny clubs have one tried and true trick up their sleeves.
Can Roma Combat Tavagnacco's “Tight” Defense?
Speaking to RomaTV earlier today, Di Guglielmo admitted that Roma has struggled against teams that, in her words, sit tight against them. For smaller, lower-tier clubs like Tavagnacco, parking the bus is often their only resort; they simply don't have the talent to press larger, more talented teams. So, rather than meeting them on the field of battle (so to speak), they opt for a more passive approach: compact your defense and absorb, absorb, absorb.
Critics will claim this approach ruins the spirit of the game, and while it isn't entertaining (not by a longshot), it can be quite effective. To negate this inert threat, Spugna's side will need to lean on their wide players: the wingers and full-backs. By simply stretching the margins of the attack, be it through overlaps, crosses, or quick switches of play, Roma can coax the Tavagnacco defense out of their shell and open up more attacking space in the final third. Glionna, who leads the club with four assists and has what we deemed “effective speed” could have a field day if Tavagnacco sits low on Saturday.
Should that approach fail, the onus then shifts to the attacking midfielders, who can break those compact defensive lines with one well-timed pass or cleverly orchestrated dribble. The established chemistry between Giugliano, Greggi, and Serturini, among others, will enable Roma to find space in between the defensive lines with quick, synchronous passes in the box.
An upset isn't completely out of the realm of possibility tomorrow, but Roma has the talent, temperament, and tactical approach to make quick work of Tavagnacco as the Giallorosse begin their Coppa Italia title defense.
Date: November 20th
Time: 10:30 CET/4:30 am EST
Location: Stadio UPC, Tavagnacco
How to watch: Roma TV+ (free with log-in)