Roma and San Marino have faced each other three times over the past two seasons and not only have the Giallorosse won all three matches, but they've flat-out embarrassed their pals from the principality by a combined 13-3 scoreline. Making matters worse for San Marino, Roma is one of the hottest teams in the league at the moment, winning nine of their past ten matches in all competitions, including a 2-1 upset over Juventus in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals—Roma's first-ever win over Juventus, which also happened to mark the first time that Juve has lost to an Italian opponent in two seasons.
We say it nearly every week in these spaces, but Roma's 2021 turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable. You'll drive yourself crazy wishing they played like this from the jump, but Roma's reversal of fortunes over the past three months reinforces what we've long suspected: they're one of the best sides in the league, full stop.
Roma vs. San Marino: March 27th. 14:30 CET/9:30 EDT. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
Unfortunately, due to their early-season struggles, there won't be any tangible rewards waiting for them at the end of the year, but the work they're putting in now should pay off next season.
But that's a worry for the summer. Roma still has six matches remaining this season, so let's turn our focus to Saturday's match against San Marino.
But first, a quick look back at the reverse fixture.
October 17, 2020: San Marino 2, Roma 3
Talk about a strange match. Prior to this meeting in San Marino last October, Roma was a perfect two-for-two against the San Marino Academy, outscoring them by a 10-1 margin. And while Roma jumped out to an early lead thanks to a 10th-minute goal from Paloma Lázaro, the deluge of goals we expected never came. Raffaella Barbieri would convert a 42nd-minute penalty to level the match but Lázaro would hit back at San Marino in the 44th minute with a towering header off an out-swinging free-kick from Vanessa Bernauer.
But the first half scoring wouldn't end there. Capitalizing on a poor parry from Roma keeper Rachele Baldi, Barbieri would level the match again in the 45th minute, tapping home a rebound off Baldi's initial save.
Things were looking bleak for Roma, but as she so often does, Annamaria Serturini played the role of hero, securing the match-winner in the 88th minute, taking a feed from Lázaro in the box and beating the keeper low and away.
With a 3-0 record and a +10 goal differential, the brief history of this matchup has favored Roma dramatically, but will the last fixture prove to be a blip on the radar or a genuine narrowing of the gap between these two clubs?
We'll soon have our answer, but let's take a look at the keys to victory for Saturday's fixture.
Keep An Eye On
Who Starts at Striker?
With eight goals in 16 matches, Paloma Lázaro is enjoying the best stretch of her career but she's been prone to some down stretches, which have been punctuated by some pretty glaring misses. But, as the only true center-forward on the roster, she's had the kind of job security you can only dream of.
We're not suggesting that the 27-year-old Spaniard should lose her starting gig (far from it), but Roma newcomer Marija Banusic, who arrived in Rome during the winter transfer window, made her presence known in a BIG way last week against Inter. Banusic's audacious bicycle kick punctuated Roma's dramatic 4-3 victory over Inter Milan last weekend and garnered a lot of mainstream media attention.
Banusic has been a bit player thus far, logging only 26 minutes prior to last weekend, but chances are that her jaw-dropping goal last weekend caught the attention of Roma manager Betty Bavagnoli, who missed the match with flu-like symptoms.
Still just 25-years-old, Roma is already Banusic's seventh club since 2012, so she was very much a low-risk, high-reward type of signing. And if holy %&!@, stop-what-you're-doing-and-watch goals are the reward, then Roma would be wise to truly evaluate what the young Swedish striker can do.
Although Elisa Bartoli still out injured, Bavagnoli's squad is otherwise fit and ready for action. And even though San Marino kept things close last time out, Roma's finishing woes were on full display that afternoon, so the final score wasn't necessarily reflective of each squad's respective quality.
Mired in fourth-place, nine points back of third-place Sassuolo, Roma really has nothing to lose, and given how soundly Roma has handled San Marino the past two seasons, Bavagnoli should have plenty of leeway to experiment.
Roma's youth ranks are as impressive as any team in the league—if not Europe as a whole—and one of the unexpected benefits of having nothing at stake is that Bavagnoli can run out two, three, or even four of those players in the starting lineup without fear of falling out of the Champions League places.
Now, obviously, we'd prefer the alternative, but with nothing of real consequence at stake and facing a team you'd dominated over the past two years (at home, no less), if you can't run out the kids now, then when?
With that in mind, could we see young players like Heden Corrado, Emma Severini, Alice Corelli, Elena Battistini, or Alessandra Massa tomorrow?
We'll find out in a few hours...