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Roma's Midfield Steadied the Club During an Unsteady Season

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Led by Manuela Giugliano, Roma's midfield checked nearly all the boxes this season en route to the club's first trophy.

AC Milan v AS Roma Women - TIMVISION Women Cup Final Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

With Manuela Giugliano (2019 Player of the Year), Andressa Alves (a 2019 FIFPRO World XI finalist), and Giada Greggi (2019s Top U-21 Italian player), midfield is arguably Roma's strong suit, and that's without even mentioning talents like Vanessa Bernauer and Andrine Hegerberg, both of whom have won titles in multiple European Leagues. However, in addition to being laden with talent, Roma's midfield was plagued by injuries this season.

With Greggi and Hegerberg each missing large swaths of the entire season with ACL injuries, Andressa missing time due to minor injuries and international travel delays amid the pandemic, Betty Bavagnoli had to mix and match in midfield more than any point in the club's three-year existence.

But injuries are just part of the business, especially when you manage AS Roma, so let's take a quick look at how Roma's midfielders fared during this unprecedented, trying, and ultimately rewarding season.

Player Review & Ratings: The Midfielders

Just as we've done for every other positional group in these post-season reviews, we'll offer a quick look at their individual highs and lows and then assign each player a numerical grade out of 10. Given the relative lack of reliable data for Serie A Femminile, the data may be a bit light compared to our rundown on the men’s side, but we’ll make do!

First up, the former MVP herself...

Manuela Giugliano

AC Milan v AS Roma Women - TIMVISION Women Cup Final Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Stats (Serie A Only)

  • 21 appearances
  • 4 goals
  • 2 assists

Season Summary

After a few scant appearances early in the 2019-2020 season, the real Manuela Giugliano appeared with greater regularity down the stretch of that pandemic-shortened season. Maybe it was the weight of expectations or struggling to fit in with her new teammates, manager, and surroundings, but the 2019 MVP came up short of expectations early in her debut season with Roma.

So when this year began, we weren't sure what Giugliano to expect: the one who was seemingly too self-aware of her importance to Roma and thus played with slight hesitation, or the one who reappeared down the stretch, spraying passes all over the park, sweeping up at the back when needed and generally looking like the same maestro who ran the show for Italy in the 2019 World Cup.

And, after nearly two dozen sterling appearances, we're happy to report that Giugliano was at her most influential once again in 2020-2021. Whether she was slotted in the middle of the 4-3-3 or in the double pivot of the 4-2-3-1 (she also sat in the hole on a few occasions), Giugliano made the midfield her playground this season. Given the freedom to roam on either axis, Giugliano was able to assist in the build-up from the back, work triangles through the neutral zone—breaking presses and traps in the process—feed passes into the penalty area, work give and goes with Roma's forwards and even unfurl 20 yarders for fun.

If she had the luxury of being a pure playmaker, Giugliano could easily lead the league in assists, but she does so many things so well, and does them with patience and precision, it would almost be a waste to confine her to one space or role, no matter how glamorous it might seem. If Roma’s forwards were a tad more efficient this year, then perhaps Giugliano’s assists numbers would have soared even higher, but as it stands, she's perhaps the most unique and talented midfielder Italy has to offer.

And without Greggi to spell her from time to time, Giugliano's 2021 odometer reads just shy of 2,000 minutes in all competitions—a career-high.

Outlook for Next Season

Well, considering that heavy load, let's hope Giugliano gets some rest this summer. With Greggi returning at the end of the season and Hegerberg set to start fresh this coming fall, midfield may be the one area in which Roma enjoys some continuity next season. New manager Alessandro Spugna favors the 4-3-3 formation, so Giugliano's role and statistical profile should remain the same in 2022.

It's hard to remember, considering how long we've been talking about here, but Giugliano is only two months shy of her 24th birthday—she can still become so much more than she is now, which is a scary thought for Roma's competition.

Final Grade: 8 out of 10

Statistics will never tell the full tale of a player like Giugliano, but she's pure class from head-to-toe and Roma would be lost without her.

Andressa

AC Milan v AS Roma Women - TIMVISION Women Cup Final Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Stats (Serie A Only)

  • 15 appearances
  • 4 goals
  • 3 assists

Season Summary

Another member of Roma's impressive 2019 transfer class, Andressa continued her seamless transition to Italian football. A year after pouring in five goals in 12 appearances, Andressa slotted home four goals this year to go along with three assists. Her 0.58 goals + assists per 90 minutes were third on the squad this year and the most of any Roma midfielder.

Much like Giugliano, Andressa defied conventions and descriptions this year, seeing time in midfield (center, right, and left), in the hole of a 4-2-3-1, and even a few spot appearances on the wing. No matter where she was, Andressa's job was simple: create, create, create and then create some more.

She was dealt a bit of bad luck with some minor muscle strains and missed time due to travel commitments back and forth between Brazil, experiencing further delays thanks to quarantine measures pre and post-arrival in Italy, so her numbers took a bit of a hit from last year: Andressa's 15 appearances and 1,095 minutes were among the lowest of her professional career.

But, much like Giugliano, there is a palpable difference between Roma with Andressa and Roma without Andressa.

Outlook for Next Season

After recently signing on for another year in the capital, Andressa should reprise her role as Roma's chief creator under Spugna's guidance next year. With a bit more luck and good health, Andressa could easily chip in 10-12 goals + assists next term.

Final Grade: 7 out of 10

When she was there, she was great. A healthy Andressa will be critical to Roma's hopes next season.

Vanessa Bernauer

AC Milan v AS Roma Women - TIMVISION Women Cup Final Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Stats (Serie A Only)

  • 15 appearances
  • 1 assist

Season Summary

A charter member of AS Roma Femminile, the 33-year-old Swiss midfielder continues to age with grace, turning in another solid season in Roma colors. Ostensibly starting the season on the outside looking in, Bernauer logged over 1,100 minutes this season, second only to Giugliano among Roma midfielders.

With her midfield compatriots earning most of the glory, Bernauer did the dirty work in Bavagnoli's 4-3-3 and later the 4-2-3-1. A calming presence on the ball, Bernauer is capable of filling any of the “create, destroy or defend” roles incumbent upon midfielders in a 4-3-3, which she did reasonably well this season. Hers was the classic “not the reason you win but seldom, if ever, the reason you lose” season.

Given her glue-girl role, Bernauer's stats are sure to underwhelm, but with Greggi and Hegerberg lost early in the season, Bernauer bailed out Roma's midfield on presence alone but proved to be a pillar for Bavagnoli in 2021. And for a player who doesn't rack up stats or accolades, scoring the Coppa Italia winning PK at the end of May was a nice reward for three years of hard work.

Outlook for Next Season

Unlike Giugliano and Andressa, Bernauer's contractual status is uncertain. If, however, Bernauer decides to return to the Giallorosse, she'll be an indispensable piece of the midfield puzzle as Greggi and Hegerberg work their way back to full fitness.

Final Grade: 7 out of 10

Every club needs a midfielder like Bernauer; one you can plug into virtually any midfield role in a variety of tactical setups. And for the third year in a row, Bernauer did whatever was asked of her and did it well.

Claudia Ciccotti

Football Serie A Woman AS Roma-San Marino Academy photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Stats (Serie A Only)

  • 14 appearances
  • 1 goal
  • 1 assist

Season Summary

After making 15 starts in Roma's inaugural season in 2018, Ciccotti, a born and bred Roman, lost playing time in 2020 thanks to the raft of new midfielders the club signed and a serious knee injury of her own. Fit and ready to contribute, Ciccotti rebounded with 14 appearances and over 900 league minutes this season.

If Giugliano or Bernauer weren't playing or were simply off their game, you can bet your bottom dollar that Ciccotti was called upon to pick up the slack. Ciccotti, much like Bernauer, was the heavy lifter in midfield. Splitting most of her time between center and right sections of Roma's midfield, Ciccotti rewarded Bavagnoli with steady and intelligent play.

While she may not have the physical gifts that Roma's other midfielders possess, Ciccotti is a cerebral player who seldom makes mistakes and knows what it takes to succeed in Roma. And for her jack-knife-like qualities and commitment to the crest, Ciccotti was given a new deal last month, one that will extend her stay with Roma through 2023.

Outlook for Next Season

Exactly how much Ciccotti plays next season (and where and in what role) depends largely on the health of Greggi and Hegerberg and whether or not Bernauer returns. If that trio is back in the fold and fully fit next season, Ciccotti will likely serve as a backup to either Giugliano or Bernauer. If, however, any of the preceding names struggle to recover from their injuries or simply don't return to the club, expect Ciccotti to log another 800 minutes or so.

Final Grade: 6.5 out of 10

Steady as she goes, that's the Ciccotti story, and successful teams cannot operate without midfielders like her.

Andrine Hegerberg

FC Internazionale v AS Roma- Women Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Stats (Serie A Only)

  • 8 appearances
  • 1 assist

Season Summary

As you can tell from the paucity of bullet points above, 2020-2021 was an abbreviated season for Roma's 28-year-old Norwegian midfielder. One year after enjoying the best season of her professional career with Roma, Hegerberg's follow-up campaign was cut short in December when she tore the ACL in her left knee.

However, prior to injuring her knee, Hegerberg seemed poise to reprise her role as the classic number eight in Roma's midfield: running, distributing, linking, destroying, and creating.

Outlook for Next Season

Unburdened by crutches (as far as we could tell), Hegerberg was at the Mapei Stadium last month to take in (and celebrate) Roma's Coppa Italia conquest. Just six months out from surgery, Hegerberg should be good to go not long after the 2021-2022 season starts.

Final Grade: Incomplete but promising

Giada Greggi

AS Roma v AC Milan - Women’s Coppa Italia Final Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Stats (Serie A Only)

  • 4 appearances
  • 1 start
  • 144 minutes

Season Summary

The young woman we pegged as the future of Roma after her fantastic 2019 season in which she was named Italy's best U-21 talent, Greggi was the latest in a long line of ACL tears that have plagued Roma for the better part of a decade now. Greggi returned late in the season and even managed a 39-minute cameo in the Coppa Italia finale, coming on for Andressa just before the end of regular time.

Outlook for Next Season

That Coppa finale appearance was, quite frankly, shocking. Barely seven months removed from ACL surgery and Greggi was thrust into the biggest match in club history and showed few signs of reticence once she entered the match. With a few additional months to hone her fitness over the summer, Greggi should jump right back into the fray next year, working alongside and/or supporting Giugliano and Andressa in midfield. The extent to which she earns starter's minutes will depend on Hegerberg's recovery and whether or not Bernauer returns, but we still expect big things from the 21-year-old Roman.

Final Grade: Incomplete

Rest up, kid. You're still the future of Roma.

Emma Severini

Football Serie A Woman AS Roma-San Marino Academy photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Stats (Serie A Only)

  • 5 appearances
  • 57 minutes
  • 1 assist

Season Summary

One of many truly impressive teenage talents teeming throughout Roma's youth ranks, Severini, a 17-year-old Prato native, was instrumental in the Giallorosse's Primavera Scudetto victory. Shuttling between the two levels this year, Severini made just five appearances with the senior side but looked incredibly promising, particularly against San Marino in late March where she assisted an Agnese Bonfantini stoppage-time goal.

Outlook for Next Season

With a new manager on the bench, Severini's role next season is about as uncertain as they come. One month shy of her 18th birthday, Severini still has plenty of time to develop and with a crowded midfield, Roma might be best served by finding a suitable loan for Severini.

Final Grade: N/A

Final Thoughts on The Midfield

Typically, football clubs only go as far as their midfield takes them. While there are limits to that axiom, Roma's midfield has practically everything manager craves. Between Giugliano's sheer class, Hegerberg's box-to-box heroics, Andressa's smooth passing, Bernauer's versatility, and the sheer energy of Ciccotti and Greggi, Roma's midfield isn't lacking much at all.

New manager Alessandro Spugna was a 4-3-3 devotee at Empoli this season, using the now-standard attacking paradigm for all 22 matches en route to a sixth-place finish—one place behind Roma. Despite finishing so close to each other on the table, Spugna's attack was far more prolific than Bavagnoli's, scoring 47 goals—tied for the league's second-highest mark. (Roma managed only 35 goals)

And 17 of those goals, a full 36%, came from midfielders. Cecilia Prugna, who occupied the central role in the 4-3-3, accounted for eight goals on her own, so that may portend a greater attacking role for either Giugliano or Andressa next season.

Spugna will need a greater level of efficiency from Roma's forwards to match or improve upon those 47 goals next year, but one thing is for certain: Roma's midfield will provide chances in spades.

With Giugliano, Greggi, Severini, Ciccotti, and Hegerberg all 28-years-old or younger (a lot younger in some cases), Roma's chances for title contention and a Champions League birth are in good hands.