The great thing about sports—and what keeps us coming back week after week, year after year—is their ability to surprise, and that was certainly the case in Roma's victory over Empoli in last weekend's Serie A Femminile opener. Sure, Roma won the match rather easily, but every single one of the Giallorosse's three goals came via unforced errors—own goals. We've certainly seen one, and in some instances, two, own goals in a given match, but in all my years covering this sport, I have never seen a three-nil match decided solely by own goals, which leaves one with a bit of an odd feeling.
Own goals don't spring out of anywhere—you have to put your opponents in a position to make a mistake, to begin with (which Roma certainly did)—but it tends to leave you with a strange, almost hollow feeling. By no means should we consider Roma's 3-0 win over Empoli a victory by default, but it would have been much more satisfying had they won of their own accord, particularly since this was the first match of Roma's new post-Bavagnoli era.
Roma vs. Napoli: September 4th. 17:30 CET/11:30 EDT. Campo Di Bartolomei, Trigoria.
But, as we so often say, a win is a win. And, in fact, last weekend's victory marked the first time in their brief history that Roma has won the opening match of the season. And thanks to that 3-0 victory (and the +3 goal differential), Roma are among the best teams in the league after the first round of play. New manager Alessandro Spugna and the rest of the Giallorosse will be eager to prove last week was no fluke when they square off with Napoli today in the third-ever rendition of the Derby del Sole in Serie A Femminile, so let's take a look at a few of the key storylines in this week two fixture.
Keep An Eye On
Can Tecla Pettenuzzo Step Up in Linari's Absence?
In addition to the cascade of own goals last weekend, Roma managed another unique footballing feat last weekend: the straight red. While an automatic sending-off isn't quite as rare as a hat-trick of own goals, Elena Linari managed this ignominious achievement in the 79th minute last week after a rather soft foul (it must be said) where she collided with an Empoli attack near the edge of the area.
With Linari suspended for today's match, Tecla Pettenuzzo should be in line for her first league start since January 17th against this same Napoli side. As we outlined in our U-23 countdown, Pettenuzzo is an incredibly experienced defender for her age and really only lost her starting job because the club had the unexpected opportunity to sign Linari from Bordeaux last winter. Under any other circumstance, Pettenuzzo would be an unquestioned starter for Roma, but this unexpected early-season start could be just what she needs to rediscover her form.
Roma will have to adapt to life without Linari for one weekend, but Pettenuzzo is a class player in her own right and should rediscover her chemistry with Allyson Swaby without batting an eye.
Roma Will Continue to Attack in Waves
Thanks to the pace and aggression of Benedetta Glionna, Annamaria Serturini, and Valeria Pirone, Roma's attack overwhelmed Empoli last weekend, putting 54% of their shots on target, the third-best mark in the league during Matchday 1. Despite winning the day via own goal, it was clear as day: there was very little Empoli could do to break Roma's attacking waves.
While Roma barely scraped together a 1-0 victory over Napoli during the pre-season schedule, Spugna remains confident in his club's attacking capabilities:
We definitely want to play offensive football, the fact of arriving with so many players in the goal area is what we want to do. Saturday’s figure is important, against a team that holds the ball a lot. having been so many in their half of the field, creating a lot, means that we are on the right path
Napoli have changed a lot, many players. Pistonesi will want to give their identity. It will not be an easy match: it is an organized team with important players. The first day was not lucky for them, it is clear that they already need points. We will have to be patient, playing according to our identity and our idea. We play in our house and we should impose our game. We must have the same attitude as last Saturday
That's a bit of a janky Google translation, but Spugna's comments basically boil down to this: Roma will continue to flood the final third with their pacey forwards, hoping the combination of talent and numerical superiority will produce clear-cut scoring chances.
While the end product wasn't exactly how Spugna drew it up, each of Empoli's errors stemmed from the constant and overwhelming pressure Roma's wide forwards placed on the Azzurre backline. Thanks to the speed and creativity of Serturini and Glionna on the wings, Emploli's defense was twisted and contorted, pulled out of position, and forced into hasty tackles or awkward approach angles, ultimately setting the table for those costly mistakes.
And that's precisely how Roma will operate this season. Spugna-ball, if we want to use that phrase, focuses on overwhelming defenses via numerical superiority, and the unique skillsets of Serturini and Glionna—who are likely to give defenders nightmares this season—are at the heart of that approach.
Last weekend, that formula worked to indirect perfection, forcing Empoli to essentially shoot themselves in the foot, but this time out, Roma will likely prefer a more definitive result.