Having played their first-ever match against Sassuolo in the fall of 2018, Roma will be inexorably linked to their neighbors from Emilia-Romagna, doubly so when you consider how close the Giallorosse and Neroverde were on the table in those early days. Over the past four seasons, Roma and Sassuolo have never finished more than two spots away from one another on the league table.
More than just a trivia note, Roma's performance respective to Sassuolo served as a barometer for the health of the Giallorosse's enormous ambitions as they began life in women's football four years ago. While neither club was a genuine threat to Juventus at the top of the table, Sassuolo emerged as Roma's actual rival and marker of success—until this season.
Through the first five rounds of play, Roma has only one blemish on their record: a 1-0 defeat to Juventus on September 16th. With 12 points, 11 goals scored, and a +9 goal differential, Roma has been one of the strongest sides in the league this year. Meanwhile, Sassuolo, who are typically a lock for a 4th to 6th place finish, have careened to the bottom of the standings, collecting only one point through their first five matches.
Further illustrating these divergent paths, while Sassuolo are enduring their worst start in five years, Roma has been the best club in the league in 2022. Yes, even better than Juventus. The Giallorosse boast the most victories (13) since January while tying Juventus for the fewest defeats suffered (1). Of course, with Roma still unable to actually defeat the Old Lady, Juve once again took home the Scudetto last season, edging out the Giallorosse by five points for the top prize.
While this fixture once served as a litmus test for each club's respective chances that season, with the teams heading in opposite directions—Roma fighting for the title and Sassuolo battling relegation—this once intriguing matchup could quickly become another reminder of the lack of parity in the league.
Of course, none of this means Sassuolo will roll over at the sight of Manuela Giugliano and the rest of the Giallorosse, so let's look at a couple of the key storylines in Sunday's match.
Keep An Eye On
The Triumphant Return of Elena Linari
After playing 300 minutes in Roma's first three matches of the season—two Champions League qualifiers against Glasgow City and Paris FC and the league opener against Pomigliano—Linari's early workload seemingly caught up with her, as the 28-year-old center-back has been on the shelf with a leg injury since the end of August.
The club has barely missed a beat, with Carina Wenninger and Moeka Minami stepping up in her absence. However, with the possible exceptions of Giugliano and Andressa, Linari is arguably the team's most talented player, so her return will certainly be a welcome one, regardless of how well the club played while she was away.
With only four goals in five matches, Sassuolo isn't likely to overwhelm the Roma backline, meaning Linari may have picked the perfect week to return. In any event, if Spugna rolls out a 3-5-2 formation, look for Linari to partner with Wenninger and Minami to stymy Sassuolo's struggling attack, bringing additional composure to a defense that already ranks among the best in Serie A.
Linari isn't likely to go the full 90 so soon after returning from injury, but if this next woman has anything to say about it, Roma could close out this game before it even starts.
Emilie Haavi's Time Has Arrived
We'll have much more to say about Haavi soon, but at the risk of spoiling an upcoming piece, the 30-year-old Norwegian utility woman has found a home on the left flank, swiftly rising up the ranks of the club's most important players. With four goals and two assists in nine appearances (all comps), Haavi has already saved Roma's bacon with her quick first step, a sharp eye for goal, and slick passing in the final third. She may also be the most accurate crosser in the entire AS Roma organization. And the sight of her picking out Sophie Roman Haug at the back post could soon become common place.
Pairing her with Giada Greggi, Andressa, and Valentina Giacinti down the left side of a 3-5-2 could make Roma's attack unstoppable. But her ability to push up the wing and play an attacking role gives Spugna a bevy of options to overwhelm Sassuolo (or any opponent for that matter), as Haavi can operate as a winger, attacking midfielder, and even an out-and-out forward if need be.
We didn't really know what to expect when Roma plucked her from Norway nearly 18 months ago, but she's exceeded every reasonable expectation, becoming an indispensable piece for Alessandro Spugna's side.
Speaking of indispensable...
Can Valentina Giacinti Stay Hot?
After scoring a goal and setting up another in Roma's 5-0 thrashing of Parma two weeks ago, Giacinti pushed her season total to an impressive four goals and one assist in her first 331 minutes in a Roma shirt. In a word, she's been everything we dreamt of—and more.
Having played 70 minutes in Italy's friendly against Brazil on Monday, and with the club's first-ever Champions League Group Stage match looming on Thursday, Spugna may limit Giacinti's minutes against Sassuolo. Still, given how well she's playing now, she may only need a few minutes to affect tomorrow's fixture.