The month of March was a busy yet prosperous one for the women of Roma. After shaking off a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Hellas Verona, Roma bounced back in resounding fashion, scoring their first-ever victory over Juventus, toppling the Old Lady 2-1 in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal matchup. After that landmark win, Roma proceeded to squeak past Inter Milan in a wild 4-3 affair before dispatching San Marino 2-0 prior to this most recent international break.
And in between all those matches, Roma found time to extend new contracts to goalkeeper Camelia Ceasar, midfielder Claudia Ciccotti and club captain Elisa Bartoli. As if all that weren't enough, the actual break itself was equally busy for Roma, as they sent seven players to Milena Bertolini's Italian camp over the break, including an Azzurre debut for right-back Angelica Soffia.
Fiorentina vs. Roma: April 17th. 12:30 CET/6:30 EDT. Stadio Bozzi, Firenze.
Now, the Giallorosse return to action with an away trip to Firenze where they'll face fifth-place Fiorentina. The Viola have slipped from their once-mighty perch this season and trail fourth-place Roma by five points. With both clubs all but eliminated from Italy's European places next season (only the top two clubs qualify each year for the Champions League), there isn't much immediately at stake in this match, but Roma's return fixture against Juve in the Coppa Italia looms next weekend, so Betty Bavagnoli will likely use this as a tuneup for that critical fixture.
However, before we fret about either of those matches, let's take a quick look back at the Fiorentina fixture from the fall.
November 7, 2020: Roma 2, Fiorentina 2
We haven't come right out and said it at any point over the past two years, but secretly we've been begging for Roma to sign Daniela Sabatino. With 41 league goals over the past three seasons, the Italian veteran is one of the league's most prolific scorers and in only the 10th minute she put Roma on the back heel with an excellent turn and fire off a setpiece. Not to be outdone, Roma's new striker—and a former Fiorentina player herself—Paloma Lázaro, struck back quickly, heading home a cross from Annamaria Serturini in the 19th minute.
Serturini scored what we thought was a match-winner in the 66th minute with a cracking goal from long distance, but Fiorentina would make the Giallorosse pay for multiple misses when Tatiana Bonetti stole two points in the 80th minute with a looping goal of her own.
In many ways, this match was a microcosm for all of Roma's struggles in the fall: they ran roughshod over their opponents thanks to the efforts of Serturini, Manuela Giugliano, and Andressa but simply couldn't convert in the final third.
Things have turned around since then, but one can't help but wonder where Roma would be if they were just a bit more precise in front of goal last fall.
But, the past is the past, so let's look at the key storylines heading into this Round 18 match.
Keep An Eye On
Returns and Rotations
While all the players and staff are saying the politically correct things about not overlooking Fiorentina, let's be real: the only thing that matters is next week's clash against Juventus. Roma has a precarious one-goal lead to defend against the best club in the league, meaning it will take every ounce of courage, fortitude, and commitment Roma has to push past the Old Lady and book their place in the Coppa Italia finals.
In that light, who Bavagnoli plays, where, and for how long will weigh heavily in any narrative describing this match. Elisa Bartoli is back from a minor knee injury and played 79 minutes against Iceland earlier this week, so Bavagnoli may treat her with kid gloves in this match, preferring to keep her fresh for Juventus, but the real point of concern is in midfield.
While Manuela Giugliano is as fit as ever, Roma are missing Andressa and Claudia Ciccotti for this match, which puts Bavagnoli in a pickle: a) she has to monitor Giugliano's minutes ahead of next week, b) play Marija Banusic or one of the club's teenagers in Andressa's spot in attacking midfield, and c) Ciccotti and Andressa should be good to go next week, but how much can they be counted on when they won't have played for nearly a month at that point?
Looking past your opponent is usually a cardinal sin in sports, but considering the context here—the thin midfield, key players coming off injury or long layoffs, the lack of league consequences at the moment, and the chance to advance to the club's first-ever cup final—Bavagnoli will be forgiven if she has one eye on Fiorentina and the other on Juve.
Space for Bonfantini and Pettenuzzo?
It's no secret: Agnese Bonfantini and Tecla Pettenuzzo are two of our favorite players around these parts, so we find it incredibly difficult to remain objective about this pair of young Italian talents. Pettenuzzo, who has made over 60 league appearances despite only turning 21-years-old last fall, has been the victim of Roma landing Elena Linari during the winter transfer window. It’s awfully tough to compete for minutes with a world-class player like Linari, but to Pettenuzzo's credit, she's taken it all with grace (translation Via VoceGiallorossa):
Regardless of age, I think it is always difficult to sit on the bench and not be the protagonist. Seeing Linus (Elena Linari ed) in training I realize that I have a lot to learn and I will try to do it with my eyes
Pettenuzzo and Allyson Swaby were already one of the league's most formidable defensive duos, but when you have the chance to sign someone of Linari's caliber, you can't say no. The simple solution would see Bavagnoli roll with a three-woman backline—and maybe we'll see that next year—but for now, Pettenuzzo is stuck at second fiddle. But with such a critical match looming next week, perhaps Tecla goes the full 90 on Saturday to give either Linari or Swaby rest.
Bonfantini's disappearance is a bit harder to explain, if only because the woman ostensibly taking her place, French forward Lindsey Thomas, hasn't exactly been lighting up the scoreboard either. Bonfantini managed a goal in Roma's last match before the break, which actually equals Thomas’ total for the season—though she does have four assists.
Bonfantini, still just 21-years-old, has proven to be a bit of a streaky player in her young career, but her upside is practically limitless; she just has the “it” factor Roma's other forwards are lacking, so maybe her goal against San Marino, not to mention her recent return to the national team, could be the shot in the arm she needs. Roma have been lacking goal production outside of Lázaro and Serturini, so if one of Bonfantini or Thomas can get on a roll, the job should be theirs for the taking.
A win against Fiorentina would be great, but the most important objective remaining on the 2020-2021 calendar is moving past Juventus and into the Coppa Italia finals where they'd face either AC Milan or Inter Milan.
Nevertheless, Roma has a job to do against the Viola and win would keep the momentum rolling into next weekend's return leg against Juve.
How to Watch: Roma TV (if you're outside of Italy)