A week after surviving a late onslaught from Juventus in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals to earn a spot in their first-ever cup final, Roma must turn their attention back to the league fixture list. And, ironically enough, their Round 19 opponents just so happen to be the same squad they'll face in the Coppa Italian finale on May 30th: AC Milan.
Led by the league's second-leading scorer Valentina Giacinti, the Rossonerre are firmly entrenched in second place on 48 points. Trailing league-leading Juventus by six points, Giacinti and Milan will be primed to close that gap and will look to continue their perfect league record against Roma for another year—Milan has never lost to Roma in league play, beating them by a combined 13 to 4 scoreline over six contests.
Roma vs. Milan: May 1st. 15:00 CET/9:00 EDT. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
Milan, along with Juve, are the two undisputed powers in Serie A Femminike but, as Roma's run through the Coppa Italia proved, the gap between the Giallorosse and the league's top two sides is narrowing by the week, the seeds of which may have actually been planted in the reverse fixture last fall.
November 15, 2020: Milan 1, Roma 0
On a dreary Milanese afternoon, Roma played the Rossonerre in an incredibly tight contest and took the initiative early in the match with Manuela Giugliano and Lindsey Thomas threatening in the opening quarter-hour. The match remained level through halftime, though Giugliano came excruciatingly close to putting Roma ahead in the 41st minute with a beautifully curled shot towards the far post but her effort sliced just wide of the post.
Milan would start the second half with a greater sense of aggression, with Giacinti nearly breaking the match open in the 54th minute but the home side would catch a huge break a minute later in one of the strangest sequences you'll ever see on a football pitch.
With Roma keeper Rachele Baldi set to take a goal kick, she made a subtle but significant error. Rather than hoofing the ball up the pitch, Baldi laid it off to Giugliano, who, to her credit, didn't touch the ball but looked incredibly confused. And with the ball just sort of hanging up on the grass, Giacinti rushed towards it, forcing Baldi to finally touch the ball—for the second time, which is illegal.
Baldi was red-carded and Milan was given an indirect free-kick in the six-yard box, which Roma was incredibly fortunate enough to turn away without getting booked for a handball. Roma's luck would soon run out, though, as Angelica Soffia fouled Giacinti in the box in the 70th minute.
Giacinti converted the PK and that was all she wrote. This was a bitter loss but this was the toughest Roma had ever played Milan, perhaps setting the stage for a nail-biter in the cup final on the 30th.
However, before we dream about trophies, Roma has a league match to contend with first, so let's take a look at the major plotlines sure to unfold tomorrow at the Tre Fontane.
Keep An Eye On
Will Either Side Go All Out or Play it Safe?
With these two clubs set to square off on May 30th for the Coppa Italia title, Saturday's match could either be an all-out slugfest, with neither manager pulling any punches in an attempt to win the mental battle ahead of the cup final, or, in an effort to disguise their gameplan for the 30th, we could be looking at a classic biscotto match—just 90 minutes of boring, neutral football with both clubs preferring to play it safe.
But, there is one saving grace: Milan's league position. Sitting in second place, Milan trails Juve by only six points, and with four matches to play, the Scudetto remains theoretically up for grabs. As a result, Milan shouldn't be lacking motivation tomorrow, so they will likely give Roma all they can handle tomorrow. But how will Bavagnoli respond?
We're not suggesting that'll she'll gloss over this match in an effort to conceal her hand but Roma's real prize won't be revealed until May 30th, so she may actually be incentivized to keep it close to the vest, so to speak.
And, conveniently enough, Bavagnoli addressed this point in her pre-match press conference:
The girls are all doing well, they are feeling good – there’s clearly that joy that comes with achieving something significant like reaching a final...it’s an important milestone for us.
But I said to the girls, the day after, ‘Okay, this is the first day, we enjoy this feeling, and this joy we’ve given to the fans. But from the second day we need to be back and focused on the league and finishing the league season well.
it's an important game, it was even before – but now it adds a different flavour to things
It gives us both a chance to have an early look at how things might go in the final. But we’ve prepared well for the game. We have a different opinion of ourselves now, of what we are capable of, and we want to continue that and take that into the league – continuing to play well and doing everything we can on the pitch.
With matches against Florentia, Juventus and Napoli on the docket before the Coppa Italia finale on the 30th, Roma actually has some pretty big fish to fry before they meet Milan again at the end of the month, so Bavagnoli will have more than the cup final to consider in this match.
All of which is to say...we have no idea how she'll approach this match. On the one hand, she has to consider continuity among her starters, while on the other, she has to balance fatigue, injury, and stress that will come with three tough league fixtures to close out the season. It will be a tough alchemy to master but Bavagnoli has to figure out the science sooner rather than later.
It's not an easy riddle to solve and for Bavagnoli, it may actually be the last decision she faces as Roma's manager. After guiding Roma through their first three seasons in existence, rumor holds that Bavagnoli will move upstairs into a more supervisory, big picture type of role, leaving the managerial duties to someone else, believed to be Empoli's Alessandro Spugno.
That's a matter for another day, but notching their first league win against Milan tomorrow and then besting them for the cup in a month would be quite the send-off for Bavagnoli.