Despite leading lowly Empoli last season, Roma's new manager Alessandro Spugna proved to be a miracle worker, Lacking the top-shelf talent of clubs like Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, and Roma, Spugna not only orchestrated one of Serie A Femminile's most exciting attacks, he guided Empoli to a surprising sixth-place finish. Led by young Benedetta Glionna's 10 strikes, the Azzurre bagged 47 goals last term, good enough for a three-way tie with Milan and Sassuolo for the league’s second-most prolific offense.
And thanks to his impressive work on the Empoli bench, Spugna was quickly tabbed as Betty Bavagnoli's successor at the Tre Fontane, becoming the second manager in club history after Bavagnoli ascended to the newly created role of Head of Women's Football after three years on the touchline. At only 48-years-old, Spugna is a relative newbie to the managerial world, but if his lone season with Empoli was any indication, we can expect an attack-first mentality to reign supreme in Roma this season.
In order to understand how Spugna will translate his Empoli success to the Eternal City, let's take a look at the women charged with leading the line and scoring the goals.
Annamaria Serturini (Starter: LW), Benedetta Glionna (Starter: RW), Valeria Pirone (Starter: CF), Paloma Lázaro (Backup: CF), Alice Corelli (Backup), Serena Landa (Backup, recovering from injury), Nina Kajzba (Backup, likely to shuttle between the senior and Primavera sides)
Of all the problems that plagued Roma during their disappointing 2020-2021 Serie A Femminile season, a lack of punch up top was perhaps the biggest culprit in the club's inability to escape their fourth/fifth place purgatory. Paloma Lázaro started the season like a house on fire, but some pretty glaring misses seemed to sap the young Spanish forward of her confidence as the season progressed. And without a consistent presence leading the line, defenses were able to key on Serturini, and Roma's offense ground to a halt, scoring six fewer goals than the prior year, which may not sound like much until you remember that the league canceled the final six matches due to the pandemic.
Not one to coast into her new gig on reputation alone, all Bavagnoli did was go out and acquire two of the league's top five leading goal scorers: Empoli's Benedetta Glionna (10 goals) and Sassuolo's Valeria Pirone (10 goals). And if Roma's pre-season is any indication, Glionna and Pirone figure to loom large for Spugna this season.
Between Glionna, Pirone, and Serturini, Roma's new trio of forwards combined for 29 league goals. Considering that, it’s no small wonder that the best-case scenario for Roma's forwards revolves entirely around those three Italian talents.
If Spugna's 4-3-3 works to perfection, with the midfield retaining possession and progressing the ball up the pitch and the full-backs getting forward, then Glionna, Pirone, and Serturini will feast on opposing defenses, using their speed, agility, and off the ball movement to confuse and overwhelm defenses.
But the real beauty of Roma's new additions is the manner in which they'll complement Serturini. Roma's all-time leading scorer, Serturini has used her blinding speed and agility to make mincemeat out of opposing defenses since arriving in 2018. And in Glionna, Roma now has a slightly less athletic but by no means less talented counterpart to Serturini. While Glionna would likely lose out to Serturini in a foot race, Roma's newest forward has the kind of close control, creativity, and bravado you only see in the FIFA series. And what's more, Glionna uses these traits all over the pitch to evade defenders, set up her teammates, and threaten the goal on her own.
With Serturini blazing down the left flank and Glionna dancing around and in-between defenders on the right, Roma needs a worm-like center-forward, someone who excels at finding the slightest crevice in the final third, someone with an instinctual feel for playing without the ball, someone who knows when to break for the ball and when to be patient—someone exactly like Valeria Pirone, who embodies all the best qualities of a classic number nine poacher.
Roma has struggled to find these players over the past three seasons, and if their roads to Rome are any indication, Bavagnoli finally secured Roma's missing pieces. In this best-case scenario, Spugna's 4-3-3 will evoke the most exciting and overwhelming components of Zemanlandia, out-running and outscoring opponents for fun. Sure, this approach may leak goals at the other end, but if Serturini, Glionna, and Pirone can combine for 35 goals or so, Roma may finally find themselves in the Champions League next season.
Like any 4-3-3, if the squad can't hang onto the ball, and if the wide forwards are hesitant to track back, then the whole thing falls apart. Chances in the final third will be fleeting, the failure to properly trackback will leave the defense unnecessarily and overly exposed and Roma will find themselves mired in the middle of the pack once again.
Apart from the typical tactical trappings of the 4-3-3, if either of the club's new signings struggles to adapt to their larger and more hostile surroundings, Spugna has little beyond Lázaro to turn to on the bench. Alice Corelli is a prodigious talent, as is Serena Landa, but neither are experienced enough to rely upon if Glionna, Serturini, or Pirone struggle.
This brings us to our final point: the ink on some of these birth certificates has barely dried. Excluding Pirone (32), the average age of Roma's forwards is only 22.25 years. In and of itself, that's not a huge concern, especially for someone like Serturini, whose experience belies her young age, but Roma may fall prey to the perils of youth at some point this season, so it's worth noting.
After scoring an impressive 13 goals in 38 appearances for Juventus as a teenager between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons, Benedetta Glionna took a slight step backward the following year, finding the back of the net only five times while on loan with Verona, but the Napoli native bounced back in a big way last season, scoring 10 goals for Spugna at Empoli.
While some may call that a breakout, Glionna is capable of so much more; we're talking about a break-out. Given her innate talent, her familiarity with Spugna's tactics, and the fact that she now gets to run with players as talented as Serturini, Andressa Alves, Manuela Giugliano, and Elisa Bartoli, among many others, it's entirely possible that Glionna makes a run at 15 to 20 goals, which would put her in some truly elite, Girelli and Giacinti-level company.
Final Thoughts on the Forwards
As we mentioned in the previous sections, Roma has tried to no avail to round out their forward ranks each of the past three seasons. From Martina Piemonte during Roma's inaugural season to Lázaro, Agnese Bonfantini, and Lindsey Thomas in recent years, the club hasn't quite managed to master the formula.
But with a new attack-minded manager on the touchline and three forwards who are ideal complements for one another—or put another way, are horrible complements to opposing defenses—this could be the year it all finally comes together for the Giallorosse.
Granted, we're relying on some young pieces to continue their maturation, but Roma's forwards offer nearly everything a manager desires. And if Spugna can help Lázaro rediscover her form from early last season, then Roma's offense will be nearly unstoppable.