As more and more “traditional” Serie A clubs start to invest in women's football, certain parallels between the two leagues are bound to emerge. While the power dynamics in Serie A Femminile aren't an exact replica of the men's competition, there are some similarities that are just too hard to ignore. Chief among them is Juventus' domination of each league. While Juve's run of nine titles in Serie A is coming to a merciful end, the women of Juve have been no less dominant in Serie A Femminile, winning the Scudetto every year since 2017-2018, their first season in existence.
It's an ugly and annoying byproduct of the business of sport in Italy, but for the first time in their three-year reign at the top of the league, Juventus are facing a legitimate threat. No, not in the league, where they have a six-point lead over Milan with four matches remaining, but rather in the Coppa Italia, a competition they won in 2018-2019 and were on course to repeat last year before the pandemic halted play.
Juventus vs. Roma: April 25th. 12:30 CET/6:30 EDT. Juventus Training Center, Vinovo
And that threat, somewhat surprisingly given their slow start to the season, comes from Roma, who managed something no Italian club had for two full years. The Giallorosse's 2-1 victory over Juve on March 13th was not only their first victory over Juventus, but it marked the Old Lady's first defeat to an Italian opponent in two years.
Considering how mightily Roma has struggled against the titans of Serie A Femminile, this was no small feat. So, before we delve into the return leg, let's take a look back at that historic afternoon.
The First Leg
March 13th: Roma 2, Juventus 1
We know Roma had never defeated Juventus in their three-year existence, but just how lopsided has this fixture been exactly? Well, Annamaria Serturini's opening goal—which came after only 82 seconds—was only the third goal Roma had ever scored against Juventus to that point.
Roma would cling to that lead for the remainder of the half but it wouldn't last. In the 49th minute, Barbara Bonansea would dribble past Angelica Soffia and avoid the on-coming Elena Linari before setting up Lina Hurtig with a tap-in goal to knot the match at one.
A 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals wouldn’t necessarily have been a damning outcome, especially when you consider how thoroughly Juve had dominated this fixture for the past three years, but Roma would grab a match-winner practically at the death when Lindsey Thomas pounced on a Serturini rebound to secure Roma's first-ever win over the Old Lady.
It wouldn't be hyperbole to suggest that was the biggest win in club history, but it will be quickly forgotten if Roma let their 2-1 lead vanish, so let's take a look at the key storylines in Sunday's semifinal.
Keep An Eye On
Cristiana Girelli & Barbara Bonansea
We might as well state the obvious, right? There's no need to be cute here, everyone knows that the two Italian Internationals, who have combined for 25 goals and 9 assists in league play this season, are Juve's best players. But more to the point, this duo has fired a combined six strikes past Roma over the past two-and-a-half seasons and is sure to be in the middle of any trouble Juve causes Roma tomorrow.
But, here's the beautiful thing: Roma acquired their kryptonite in the form of Elena Linari this winter. Between Linari, who is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in the world, and Allyson Swaby, who is no slouch in her own right, Roma has two mobile, strong, and intelligent defenders to counter the Bonansea/Girelli threat.
For the first time in their shared three-year history, Bonansea and Girelli won't be able to outwit, out-maneuver, or out muscle Roma's centerbacks. Linari and Swaby are sure to pester Juve's dynamic duo all afternoon, which could pave the path to victory.
They're far from Juve's only weapons of course, but everything begins and ends with that pair of savvy veterans and for the first time, Roma has a legitimate check to those threats.
Serturini, Speed & Shooting Boots
We're rolling a few concerns into one here, but these three factors are intimately intertwined. As we mentioned at the outset, Juventus has dominated this series over the past few years, outscoring Roma 17-3 since the start of the 2018 season; a span of six matches in all competitions, and two of those conceded goals came in last month's first leg alone.
But through it all, Roma has been able to flex one thing over Juventus: team speed. Personified (and led) by the ponytailed whirl that is Annamaria Serturini, Roma has had no issues breezing past Juve's defense, using their speed and acceleration to find space down the flanks. But, thanks in large part to Roma's, at times, erratic shooting, that acceleration has seldom produced goals. Even in the first leg last month, Roma left two or three chances wanting due to poor finishing.
If Roma wants to preserve this slim one-goal lead, to say nothing of advancing to the finals and defeating AC Milan to lift the Coppa Italia trophy, that speed must be matched by precision in the final third. And, as unfair as it might be, a lot of that falls on Serturini's shoulders, if for no other reason than she's Roma's most dangerous player, one who just happens to possess one of the league's most unstoppable moves.
She may have an Arjen Robben-like preference for one patented trick—stopping and cutting in from the left—but she plays it to the hilt. Thanks to her top-end speed, her acceleration and her agility, Serturini's cut and shoot move is arguably the most lethal weapon in the entire league—it's like a Steph Curry three-pointer, you know it's coming, but you're still powerless to stop it.
Serturini isn’t alone in the pace game, Agnese Bonfantini and Lindsey Thomas are blessed with speed almost in equal measure, but no matter who has their foot on the gas, chances cannot go wasted. Otherwise, Roma's historic victory in the first leg will mean nothing.
But if this match comes down to one moment, one possession, and one shot, let’s make sure the ball is at Serturini's feet.
Of course, someone has to get her the ball first...
Will Andressa Play?
While Serturini is a tremendous individual talent, wide forwards are typically only as good as the support coming from the midfield. Manuela Giugliano and Vanessa Bernauer/Claudia Ciccotti have Betty Bavagnoli's double pivot working to perfection lately but adding Andressa's silky playmaking to the mix could put Roma over the top on Sunday.
Andressa has popped in and out of the lineup through her first two years in the capital but with four goals and two assists in just over 1,000 league minutes, she's one of Roma's most dynamic attackers and arguably their best playmaker. However, having just returned from international duty with Brazil, the 28-year-old midfielder will be a match-time decision according to Bavagnoli.
If, however, Andressa is fit and ready, she will play a pivotal role in unlocking Juve's defense. With Bernauer doing the heavy lifting and the back and Giugliano marshaling the ball up the pitch, Roma will need Andressa's vision, touch, and, most importantly, quick decision making in the final third to create chances for Serturini, Bonfantini and/or Thomas out wide, as well as feeding Paloma Lázaro in the box.
Roma advances if...
- They win by any margin
- They lose by a specific one-goal result, e.g. 3-2, 4-3
- They secure a draw of any sort
Juventus advances if...
- They win 1-0
- The win by more than one goal
The match goes to extra time if...
- If Juventus is up 2-1 after 90 minutes
How to Watch
The match will be broadcast on Roma TV+ for those of us outside of Italy
To be announced.