For the first time in their brief three-year existence, the women of Roma are facing a transition period. After three years working under the watchful eye of Betty Bavagnoli, the only manager the club has ever known, the Giallorosse are set to begin life under new manager Alessandro Spugna. With Bavagnoli moving upstairs to become the Head of Women's football, the 48-year-old Spugna officially takes the Roma reins this weekend and he'll meet a familiar opponent in this week one fixture: his former club, Empoli.
While Empoli isn't likely to strike fear in the hearts of their opponents, Spugna piloted the Azzurre to a surprising sixth-place finish last season, only six points behind Roma. With 47 goals scored in 22 matches, Spugna's Empoli side was tied with Milan and Sassuolo for the second-best scoring record in the league last season.
Empoli vs. Roma: August 28th. 17:30 CET/11:30 EDT. Stadio Castellani, Empoli.
And with Spugna now in charge in Rome, and the club significantly upgrading their attack with the additions of Benedetta Glionna and Valeria Pirone, expectations for the Giallorosse are sky-high.
With all that in mind, let's take a look at a couple of key storylines in this week one fixture.
Spugna's First Starting Lineup
Whenever a new manager takes over a football club, the most immediate question is, quite simply, what will the starting lineup look like? It's a question we asked last week before José Mourinho officially began his tenure as Roma manager, and it's no different on the women's side of the aisle
As we discussed in our season preview series, Spugna is a firm devotee of the 4-3-3 formation, but with a greater pool of talent at his disposal, his lineup selections won't be as cut and dry as they likely were with Empoli. And, in fact, we've already seen Spugna deviate from his bog-standard Empoli look to the very same 4-2-3-1 Bavagnoli used to great effect in the second half last season, so we can't be certain that he has his favorites yet.
Despite that, there are several players who are sure-fire starters, including club captain Elisa Bartoli at left-back, the dynamic pairing of Allyson Swaby and Elena Linari in central defense, Manuela Giugliano in central midfield, and Annamaria Serturini and Benedetta Glionna on the wings.
That likely leaves goalkeeper, right-back, center-forward, and Giugliano's two partners in midfield as the remaining question marks. Throughout the pre-season, Spugna mixed and matched Camelia Ceasar and Rachele Baldi in goal while Angelica Soffia and Lucia Di Guglielmo have shared time at right-back, while Giugliano's midfield partners have included Vanessa Bernauer, Thaisa Moreno, and Claudia Ciccotti. Upfront, Spugna will have to decide between new signing Valeria Pirone and last season's nominal striker, Paloma Lázaro.
Considering she was a late addition to the pre-season schedule, Brazilian playmaker Andressa isn't likely to start this match, but she will be a key player for Spugna this season, so look for her to be eased into action while she gains full match fitness.
Can We Get Some Goals?
While Bavagnoli did an exemplary job during her three-year run with Roma, capping it off with last spring's Coppa Italia title, the club fell well short of their offensive ambitions last year. After scoring the second-most goals in Serie A during the 2019-2020 season, the Giallorosse's vaunted attack slipped all the way to sixth last season, scoring fewer goals than the pandemic-shortened ‘19-’20 season.
The reasons behind this drop-off are too numerous to discuss here, but one can only assume that Bavagnoli tabbed Spugna as her successor due to his impressive work with Empoli's attack last season. And by adding Glionna and Pirone, both of whom were tied for fifth in last season's scoring charts, Roma addressed their offensive deficit with aplomb.
And now it's up to Spugna to ensure that all these new parts work in harmony. Roma has the potential to set the league pace in goals scored, but in order to do so, Spugna needs to settle on a consistent lineup and ensure his midfielders and forwards can strike up quick chemistry.
And it all starts today in Empoli. If Roma can come out and hang two or three goals on the Azzurre today, it will set the tone for the remainder of the season.