The women of Roma finished 2021 on a high note, brushing off newly-promoted Pomigliano in a relatively stress-free 3-1 win—their seventh-straight win in all competitions. However, after breaking for the holiday recess, Roma's new year started off a dour note as the Giallorosse fell prey to AC Milan in the Supercopa semifinals last week. While we can quibble about the merits of that tournament, it marked a bitter end to perhaps the most impressive stretch of football we've seen this club play.
Despite bowing out to Milan in the semis, Roma remains in an impeccable position on the league table: second place on 25 points. While they remain eight points adrift of league-leading Juventus, Roma has never climbed this high on the table this late in the season. In his first season in charge, Alessandro Spugna has risen to the challenge of replacing Betty Bavagnoli and has the club primed for their most successful Serie A campaign to date.
However, despite his impressive first season in charge, Spugna's first official match as Roma manager was far from smooth sailing. In fact, the waters were pretty damn choppy. When these sides last met, way back in August in Matchday One, we witnessed one of the strangest matches this game can produce: a 3-0 win in which Roma didn't score a single goal. That's right, in his first match in charge, Spugna took all three points thanks to not one, not two, but three own goals from his former club.
Roma won't be quite that lucky this time around, so let's take a look at a few of the key storylines ahead of Saturday's match.
Keep An Eye On
Roma's COVID Crisis
With the omicron variant running roughshod over the entire planet, Roma's current COVID crisis feels...well, normal. There are certainly far, far worse outcomes from the virus, but Roma will be down forwards Benedetta Glionna, Andressa Alves, and Valeria Pirone tomorrow when they host Empoli. In case you're not familiar with the Giallorosse, allow me to provide some context: Glionna, Andressa, and Pirone have combined to score eight goals (38% of their season total) while also providing eight assists. And if all that wasn't bad enough, Spugna has also tested positive, meaning his deputy Leonardo Montesano will call the shots tomorrow.
It’s not all bad news on the viral front, however, as star defender Elena Linari tested negative late in the week and will be ready to suit up on Saturday. But without three of his starting forwards, who have combined to score nearly 40% of the club's league goals, Montesano has his work cut out for him.
Leading us to...
Roma's Patchwork Lineup
Without Glionna, Andressa, Pirone, and defender Allyson Swaby, who recently signed with Angel City FC in the NWSL, Montesano (with Spugna likely calling the shots behind the scenes) will have to get creative when filling out Saturday's lineup card.
Up top, the simple solution will see Paloma Lázaro lead the line in a 3-4-2-1 with Manuela Giugliano and Giada Greggi each moving up the pitch one rung to support the Spanish striker. Without Manu and GG in the midfield, Montesano will likely turn to the rock-solid duo of Claudia Ciccotti and Thaisa Moreno.
Things may get tricky at the wing-back spot, but Annamaria Serturini is more than capable of carving up Empoli's backline from a more withdrawn position than she's accustomed to, while new signing Emilie Haavi should get her first start in Roma colors as the club's makeshift left wing-back.
In defense, with Swaby basking in the LA sun, look for Linari to partner with Tecla Pettenuzzo—who will benefit tremendously from Swabý's departure—and Lucia DiGuglielmo, who will drop back from her normal full-back spot to aid Linari and Pettnuzzo at the rearguard.
Despite the patchwork lineup, Roma has enough firepower to make quick work of Empoli...and if things go off without a hitch, they may even score a goal or two of their own this time!