When AS Roma and AC Milan meet tomorrow in Reggio Emilia to fight for the 2021 Coppa Italia Femminile title, it will mark the organization's first senior-level cup final since May 26, 2013; the infamous Coppa Italia derby in which Francesco Totti was reduced to tears watching Lazio hoist the cup in front of a packed Stadio Olimpico. The wounds from that defeat are still fresh, but with a victory over Valentina Giacinti and the rest of the Rossonere, Roma can capture the first title in the brief history of the women's team and the organization's first senior-level title since 2008.
You don't need me to remind you, but the stakes are extraordinarily high tomorrow. And it would be one thing if Roma entered Sunday's finale as conquering heroes, but after securing their place in the final thanks to an aggregate victory over Juventus, Roma struggled to maintain that positive momentum, dropping points in five consecutive matches, including a scoreless draw against Milan on May 1st.
Milan vs. Roma: May 30th. 20:30 CET/2:30 EDT. Mapei Stadium, Citta del Tricolore.
Then again, if any Roma team entered any final (or, let's be real, any match) under ideal circumstances, it would feel like cheating. After all, having things handed to you isn’t the Roma way. In Game of Thrones terms, if Roma wants silverware, they pay the iron price.
Fortunately for Roma, Milan aren't exactly peaking at the right moment either. After booking their place in the final by breezing past their city rivals Inter Milan, the Rossonere slipped into their own funk, drawing three matches and losing another to close out the Serie A season.
However, in a one-off final like this none of that matters, so let's take a look at the key storylines heading into Sunday's Coppa Italia finale.
Keep An Eye On
The Mental Battle
Obviously, we can't literally keep an eye on the player's internal monologues, but with both clubs hitting the skids over the past few weeks, it's fair to question which team will be in better spirits prior to Sunday's kick-off. In addition to dropping points in five straight contests, Roma took an even bigger hit last weekend against Napoli when star forward Annamaria Serturini was stretchered off the pitch following a blow to the head, but the 23-year-old recovered and should be good to go tomorrow as she seeks her third Coppa Italia title—she has two from her time with Brescia.
But, more to the point: Roma has never beaten AC Milan. Since joining the league in 2018, the closest Roma has come to defeating the Rossonere was that nil-nil draw earlier this month. The gap between these two sides has definitely narrowed, but there's simply no way of knowing if that checkered history will impact Roma on the pitch tomorrow, so be on the lookout for any early signs of aggravation from Roma—any slipups or dodgy calls early in the match could derail them completely.
To her credit, captain Elisa Bartoli wasn't having any of that talk:
“Success breeds success. Beating the champions of Italy has given us confidence and belief in ourselves. We can’t afford to underestimate anyone, though. We are going up against a side that has improved a lot over the season. We will need to be focused on the details.”
Roma manager Betty Bavagnoli echoed her captain's sentiments:
The Supercoppa game [against Juventus] helped us reach a new level of maturity. Even though we didn’t win, showing ourselves that we could go toe-to-toe with a great team like Juventus was crucial. That game changed things for us
Elena Linari vs. Valentina Giacinti
Matches like these are precisely why you pull out all the stops to sign one of the best defenders in the world. Roma's midseason acquisition of Italian international Elena Linari was a masterstroke from the Giallorosse leadership. Since signing with the club in January, Linari has transformed Roma's defense, helping keep five clean sheets in her first 12 appearances with the club, with Roma winning nine of Linari's first 10 matches.
Even when Roma weren't pitching shutouts with Linari at the back, they still achieved a few notable milestones, including their first-ever victory over Juventus and their first-ever positive result against AC Milan; the aforementioned draw. And, to top it all off, she's chipped in two goals for good measure.
And together with her defensive partner Allyson Swaby, Linari will be tasked with stopping Milan striker Valentina Giacinti. The 27-year-old Giacinti scored 18 league goals this year, second to only Juve's Cristiana Girelli. But despite missing out on the scoring title, Giacinti continued her torrid form, doubling her output from last year's pandemic-shortened season and nearly matching her 21 goal haul from each of the prior two seasons.
Football isn't a one-on-one game of course, but we're sure to see several clashes between Milan's best attacker and Roma's best defender. If Linari and Swaby can limit Giacinti's time on the ball—which will be a lot easier if the midfield can cut the supply line to her in the first place—Roma's chances of victory are sure to increase. Giacinti only needs an inch to completely turn a match on its head, so Linari and Swaby better be draped all over her on Sunday.
Can Someone Help Serturini?... Please!
With only 35 goals in 22 matches, Roma's attack as a whole took a gigantic step backward this year, scoring six fewer goals than last season, one in which they played six fewer games. However, just as she did two years ago, Annamaria Serturini was Roma's leading scorer, oftentimes looking like the only viable threat in the final third.
Serturini's greatest assets are her speed, agility, and aggression—traits she uses to create her own shot from virtually any angle—but she can't win the Coppa Italia on her own. With eight league goals, Paloma Lázaro had a nice debut season with Roma, but the Spanish striker hasn't found the back of the net since February 28th—a drought of epic proportions.
And with Agnese Bonfantini struggling this season, Andressa Alves dealing with a string of minor injuries and Lindsey Thomas plagued by her own inefficiencies, Roma's attack was pretty much Serturini or bust this season.
As we discussed with our Milan colleagues earlier today, limiting Serturini's touches and time on the ball is probably Milan's best path to victory. Roma will need someone...anyone...to step up and grab the initiative. It could be a long-distance curler from Manuela Giugliano in midfield, a Linari or Swaby setpiece header, or even a piece of Bonfantini magic, but whatever it is, if Roma has a shred of hope tomorrow, they can't rely on Serturini and Serturini alone.
The stakes tomorrow are perhaps the highest we've seen any Roma side face since that ill-fated afternoon in May 2013, but with big risks come big rewards. Roma stumbled out of the gates this season, virtually erasing any title ambitions they had before we even reached the holiday season, but defeating one of their arch-rivals to claim the first title in club history could set the Giallorosse down the path towards Scudetto contention next season.
Cross every finger and every toe you have—Roma needs all the luck they can get tomorrow. You won't want to miss this match!