In yesterday's match preview, we painted today's Round 19 fixture between Roma and Milan at the Stadio Tre Fontane in the Italian capital as a de facto preview of the Coppa Italia finale set for May 30th. While these clubs are certainly not strangers, we couldn't escape the feeling that both managers would play it close to the vest, not wanting to reveal any tactical secrets ahead of the Coppa finale at the end of the month.
However, with Milan still clinging to their Scudetto hopes, there was a greater sense of urgency on the pitch than we anticipated, at least from the women wearing white. But you wouldn't have guessed that in the early phases of this match. Milan may have had more at stake today, but Roma was the more aggressive side in the opening 15 to 20 minutes of this match, working the ball down the flanks through Annamaria Serturini and Agnese Bonfantini.
With the ball moving quickly from the back through Allyson Swaby and Elena Linari to Vanessa Bernauer and Manuela Giugliano in the middle, Bavagnoli's attack was humming like a fine-tuned machine but they struggled to find effective space once they reached the final third.
However, what they lacked in precision in the final third, they more than made up for in aggression and persistence, winning multiple corners through the first 20 minutes. With successive corners between the 17th and 18th minute, Roma nearly opened the scorer's ledger when Elisa Bartoli and Elena Linari forced saves from Mian keeper Maria Korenciova. Milan responded moments later with Valentina Bergamaschi pulling Roma keeper Camelia Ceasar into the match, forcing a save from the Romanian keeper.
Through the opening half-hour, Roma did well to stifle Valentina Giacinti at the point of Milan's attack and were swarming on the Rossonerre's wide players at the edges of the attacking third. Milan may have had more to play for but Roma was covering every blade of grass like this was their last match on earth.
Angelica Soffia, who has taken tremendous strides this season, threatened the Milan goal with a well-struck left-footer from distance, forcing Korenciova into another save. Milan would respond again through Veronica Boquete, who nearly broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute but was denied thanks to a spectacular leaping save from Ceasar—one of several Roma’s diminutive keeper made today.
With neither center forward (Giacinti for Milan and Paloma Lázaro for Roma) able to make their mark on this match, both clubs seemed to rely on their wide players for inspiration. Milan did well to effectively blunt Serturini in the first half but Agnese Bonfantini had no issues taking it to Laura Fusetti and Linda Tucceri Cimini down the right. And in the 35th minute, Bonfantini slipped behind the Milan defense at the near right post and flashed a header into the side netting.
Milan would find a couple of late chances through Giacinti but Ceasar continued to stand on her head, plucking shots out of mid-air like a cat swatting at flies on a window sill.
The halftime whistle would sound out over a scoreless 45 minutes but Roma was the better side in the first half, creating more chances in the run of play and winning more setpieces than Milan. The problem was quite simply that, despite all their great ball movement and spacing, they didn't generate any clearcut chances.
Bavagnoli opted for no changes to start the second half and once play resumed, we saw a familiar pattern: both defenses focusing on removing the center forwards from the action, which resulted in a lot of back and forth tussling in midfield and hastily played crosses from the wide areas.
The score remained level and the genuine chances were few and far between but the momentum took a noticeable turn in Milan's favor. While the Rossonerre weren't exactly flying up and down the pitch, their possession was more controlled and more purposeful than Roma's, who was visibly frustrated with their lack of possession and seemed to make hasty decision after hasty decision when they managed to keep the ball.
And, as is so often the case, this lack of attacking fluidity produced panicked crosses and speculative shots from beyond the box. Giugliano ripped off a couple of decent efforts just shy of the hour mark and Bonfantini nearly created her own chance in the 58th minute when she flew past the Milan defense down the right only to be denied by a last-ditch slide tackle.
In the 69th minute, Annamaria Serturini made her presence felt for the first tie all afternoon, flashing a ball to the near left post for Lindsey Thomas. The Frenchwoman's run was well-timed but Korenciova read the play perfectly, closing the gap at the post before Thomas could really get a crack at it.
By this point in the match, Milan had strengthened their grasp on the match, turning out a two-to-three-minute sequence where they won multiple corners and kept Roma pinned back in their own end. With Milan controlling possession and attempting to get Giacinti involved through the middle and/or springing Christy Grimshaw down the flanks, it felt like Milan were destined to win this match at the death.
Roma would create their last chance of the match in the 88th minute when Vanessa Bernauer played a right-to-left cross towards Serturini at the left post but Korenciova was once again up to the task.
The referee tacked only two minutes of stoppage time but the match ended the way it began: nil-nil.
If this was truly a de facto preview of the cup final on May 30th, we can expect an incredibly intense match. Today's draw wasn't your classic biscotto of old but you could sense some slight hesitancy on Roma's behalf, particularly in the final third. Credit to Milan for rendering Lázaro meaningless in this match, but we can't exactly say that Roma was trying to force the issue through the middle; they seemed more content to work with what Milan afforded them rather than truly seizing the initiative for the entire 90 minutes.
However, despite the lack of fireworks this afternoon, this was literally Roma's best-ever result against Milan, who had defeated Roma in all five of their prior meetings. You can only glean so much positivity from a scoreless draw, but where past Roma-Milan fixtures saw a scared and tentative Roma side, the Giallorosse have proven in 2021 they can hang with the elites of Serie A Femminile.
And with no reason to pull any punches on May 30th, you can expect an epic clash when these two sides vie for the 2021 Coppa Italia title.