Well, the deluge of goals we expected to start our Saturday with never arrived. For the second straight fixture, San Marino refused to submit to the whims of Roma's bevy of talented attackers. Where a Roma vs. San Marino fixture once seemed like a lock for a four or five-goal blowout, the principality club has effectively narrowed the gap between the two clubs, limiting Roma to “only” five goals in their past two encounters.
While that may sound like a perfectly good return, consider that Roma pumped 13 goals past this same club in 2019-2020 and you start to get an indication for how “disappointing” today's 2-0 victory over San Marino was—to be sure, we're definitely nitpicking, but who doesn't love a good old fashion Saturday morning blowout?
In our match preview, we billed this round 17 fixture as a chance for Betty Bavagnoli to tinker with her lineup. With the brief history of this fixture firmly in Roma's favor, and with nothing of real importance at stake on the table, Bavagnoli would have been excused had she thrown some of Roma's youngest players into the fray today at the Tre Fontane.
But that wasn't the case. Outside of last week's hero Marija Banusic starting at striker in place of Paloma Lázaro, it was business as usual for Bavagnoli and Roma, whose only real starting lineup concern was captain Elisa Bartoli's lingering knee issues. And just as she did last weekend against Inter Milan, Bavagnoli pushed Angelica Soffia off her normal right-back spot to take Bartoli's place on the left while Slovenian full-back Kaja Erzen started on the right.
Apart from that, Roma's lineup was pretty standard fare: Annamaria Serturini and Lindsey Thomas at the wings, Manuela Giugliano, Vanessa Bernauer, and the club's latest contract recipient, Claudia Ciccotti, in midfield. In defense, Allyson Swaby and Elena Linari held down the fort in between Erzen and Soffia.
Roma didn't find the back of the net as often as we expected, but Bavagnoli's chosen eleven were simply too much for San Marino to handle. The Giallorosse weren't creating chances at the whim, but they were dominant in nearly every facet of the game: controlling the tempo in midfield, using the speed of Serturini and Thomas to exploit the edges of the pitch, and denying San Marino at every turn thanks to the calm play of Linari and Swaby at the back, so much so that keeper Camelia Ceasar pretty much had the afternoon off, rarely (if ever) having to move from her spot to make a save.
Roma's first goal came when Thomas and Serturini connected to break the deadlock in the 21st minute. In a move that was practically ripped from page one of Bavagnoli's playbook, Thomas blew past her defender on the right before squaring a ball into the middle of the box. Serturini made her break towards the box at the precise moment the ball left Thomas’foot, beating the defender to the ball and redirecting it past San Marino keeper Gloria Ciccioli, who would get her revenge in the second half, denying Serturini from point-blank range with a wonderful diving save.
The remainder of the first half played on without any clear-cut chances at either end, but with Roma winning the possession battle and looking quite comfortable doing so, the Giallorosse never really felt in danger of dropping this match—until stoppage time.
While both managers made four changes in the second half, there weren't any injuries to speak of nor any random stoppages of play, so I'm not entirely sure where referee Christian Cudini found four added minutes but his discretion was nearly Roma's undoing.
Just as they did for most of the afternoon, Roma ran the show in stoppage time, keeping the ball on a string and passing around San Marino as they pleased...until the final 30 seconds. With Roma clinging to a one-goal lead, San Marino threw all 10 outfield players into attack, putting the Giallorosse under more pressure than at any other point during the match.
With Roma struggling to clear danger deep in their area, Kaja Erzen committed a horrible turnover deep in Roma territory—she sort of just lost hold of the ball while trying to wheel away from the San Marino press. And in doing so, she almost set the stage for San Marino to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat.
However, thanks to unflappable Elena Linari, Roma was able to avoid a late collapse and actually turned the tables on San Marino, picking out Agnese Bonfantini on the counter-attack in the very next breath. Roma's right-winger had a one-v-one against Ciccioli, beating her with ease to officially ice the match, delivering Roma's 10th win in their past 11 matches.
This match had all the makings of another Roma rout, so let's give San Marino a bit of respect here; they hung in there and nearly stole a point at the death. Banusic wasn't able to replicate her Inter heroics from last weekend, looking largely disconnected from the rest of Roma's attack during her 70 minutes on the pitch, so I'm not sure Paloma Lázaro has to fret about losing her position just yet.
From Martina Piemonte and Luisa Pugnali during Roma's first season to Amalie Thestrup last year, Roma has struggled to find consistency as the striker position, but you didn't have to look far to catch a glimpse of Roma's possible future at the position. In fact, all you had to do was look across the pitch at the young woman wearing the #92 shirt—Roma loanee Serena Landa.
The 19-year-old Italian forward didn't find the back of the net today, but she showed flashes of her immense promise. San Marino struggled to make a dent in Roma's backline, but when they did, it was usually because of Landa, who showcased a level of strength, vision, and tactical intelligence that belies her 19 years.
Multiple times in the second half, Landa could be seen shielding the ball from imposing defenders like Swaby and Linari, and somehow still finding time and space to provide for her teammates or unleash beautifully bent left-footed shots. It was an incredibly impressive effort from Landa, who has seen her time on the pitch increase in each of San Marino's last five matches.
Roma desperately needs to sort out the striker position and if the 19-year-old Landa can make the most of her loan time with San Marino, she should strike up quite the partnership with Serturini, Bonfantini, Giugliano, and the rest of Roma's stock of U-23 attackers in the near future.
Roma will take a three-week international break before facing Fiorentina on the 17th of April.