After watching Betty Bavagnoli, the only manager they'd ever known, take a new role with the club and Alessandro Spugna take her place, not to mention several high profile transfers dominate the headlines over the summer, all of Roma's hard-earned progress over the past three years could have been torn asunder by the sheer scale of that change. However, rather than exhibiting any regression, Spugna and Roma have quietly put together the best season in the club's four-year history, taking everything Bavagnoli put in place to an entirely new level.
So when Roma entered their Round 15 six-pointer against Juventus on March 5th with a chance to tie the Old Lady for the league lead, that once seemingly impossible goal, winning the Scudetto, felt more plausible than ever before—if not outright probable. Winning nine-straight league matches, Roma were on an absolute tear and were catching Juve on the rare downswing after they lost to Empoli the prior weekend—their first defeat in nearly two years.
For the first time in their history, it finally felt like Roma belonged on the same pitch as Juventus. And while they weren't ultimately able to defeat Juve, they played the defending champions to a tough 1-1 draw, one in which they technically blanked Juventus due to Angelica Soffia's early first-half own goal, which was later canceled out by Paloma Lázaro in the 61st minute.
While they remained three points behind Juventus, last weekend's 1-1 draw against AC Milan likely spelled the end of Roma's title hopes, especially since Juve handled their business in a two-nil win over Napoli. However, it wasn’t all bad news for the Giallorosse, as third-place Sassuolo were held in check by the very same Empoli side that defeated Juventus two weeks prior.
Add all that up and with five matches left to play, Italy's second and final Champions League place currently belongs to Roma, who have a three-point advantage over Sassuolo (this weekend's opponents, coincidentally enough) while AC Milan remains two points back of them in fourth place. However, before we go dreaming of mid-week matchups against the true powerhouses of women's football in Europe, let's examine exactly what Roma must do to hang onto Serie A's second and final Champions League place.
With three teams separated by five points vying for only one European berth, it promises to be a tense race to the finish, so let's break it down week by week and see which club stands the best chance at securing a spot in next season's Champions League.
Roma vs. Sassuolo: Saturday, March 26th (9:30 am EDT)
Roma and Sassuolo have squared off seven times since the Giallorosse joined the league in the fall of 2018. While the Neroverde have been one of the surprises of the league this season, Roma has held historical serve in this matchup, running out to a 5-1-1 record (W-D-L) while sporting a +6 goal differential along the way. The recent results have been even more favorable for Roma, who shut out Sassuolo 2-0 in each of their past two fixtures. When taken with their eleven-match unbeaten streak, Roma should be solid favorites in this matchup.
Best-Case Scenario: There's no need to complicate things here. A draw would be fine and would preserve Roma's three-point advantage, but a win could seal the deal for all intents and purposes.
Worst-Case: A Sassuolo win; simple as that. No matter what it takes—clutching, grabbing, diving, repeatedly kicking the ball 50 feet in the air to kill time—Roma cannot come away from this fixture empty-handed.
AC Milan vs. Fiorentina: Sunday, March 27th (6:30 am EDT)
While Inter Milan are only seven points back of Roma, their red and black neighbors are the only remaining viable threat to Roma and Sassuolo for that final Champions League spot. Fortunately for both Juve-chasing clubs, Milan will run smack against a Fiorentina side fresh off a 6-0 drubbing of Hellas Verona. The Viola may have fallen down the Serie A pecking ladder in recent seasons, but they boast two former Milan stalwarts: forward Valentina Giacinti and midfielder Veronica Boquete, who may be out for revenge on Sunday.
Best-Case Scenario: A Milan loss, coupled with a Roma win on Saturday, would essentially remove the Rossonerre from the Champions League equation, so let’s hope for that.
Worst-Case Scenario: Milan wins and Roma loses, which would put Roma and Sassuolo on 39 points with Milan on 37.
Pomigliano vs. Sassuolo: Saturday, April 2nd (6:30 am EDT)
Despite an incredibly uneven season, newly-promoted Pomigliano seems poised to defeat the odds and avoid the drop in their first season in Serie A. After being bludgeoned by Roma 5-2 on February 5th, Pomigliano has saved a bit of face since then, falling to Sampdoria 1-0 on the 27th before flipping the script in a 1-0 win over Inter on March 6th.
Best-Case Scenario: A Pomigliano win would be the best possible gift Roma could receive next weekend.
Worst-Case Scenario: A Sassuolo win coupled with Roma dropping points the following day.
Roma vs. Hellas Verona: Sunday, April 2nd (6:30 am EDT)
Sitting in dead-last place with a -46 goal differential, the Mastiffs of Hellas Verona aren't likely to pose much of a threat to Spugna and the Giallorosse, but they have taken two of the past seven matches from Roma: a pair of 1-0 wins in October 2018 and March 2021. Ancient history in some respects, but with so much on the line, Roma can ill afford to overlook any opponent, especially one with nothing to lose like Verona.
Best-Case Scenario: A no-doubter, three or four-nil win would keep Roma ahead of Sassuolo, who should be heavy favorites over Pomigliano.
Worst-Case Scenario: Dropping any points at all—I think that much is clear by now, right?
Empoli vs. AC Milan: Sunday, April 3rd (8:30 am EDT)
If Milan survives their Fiorentina test, they'll face another do-or-die scenario against Empoli. Currently nestled in 8th place a mere four points above the drop, the Azzurre won't simply roll over at the sight of Milan. Empoli have never defeated Milan, of course, but they've played the Rossonerre incredibly tough lately, losing a pair of 1-0 heartbreakers last season.
Best-Case Scenario: An Empoli win, which will become an absolute necessity if either Roma or Sassuolo slips up in the interim.
Worst-Case: Milan and Sassuolo win while Roma loses—that's disastrous.
Fiorentina vs. Roma: Saturday, April 24th (Time TBA)
The Viola may have fallen way down the ladder in Serie A, but they've arguably been Roma's chief nemesis over the past few seasons. In seven prior meetings, Roma has struggled to gain a foothold against Fiorentina, playing to a 3-4-1 record (W-D-L) while outscoring their purple-clad pals by one measly goal. Needless to say, this is a trap game of the highest order.
Best-Case Scenario: I fear we're getting a bit redundant, but a Roma win would be ideal.
Worst-Case Scenario: A Roma loss with either Sassuolo or Milan winning their respective fixtures.
Sassuolo vs. Napoli: Saturday, April 24th (Time TBA)
With Roma forced to face a struggling but resilient Fiorentina club, Sassuolo has the pleasure of hosting lowly Napoli, who have slid all the way to 10th place. Despite the disparity on the table, Napoli have put up a good fight against Sassuolo, dropping a pair of 1-0 matches over the past year.
Best-Case Scenario: Napoli does their bitter rivals, Roma, a solid by upsetting Sassuolo.
Worst-Case Scenario: Roma slips up against the Viola while Sassuolo mops the floor with Napoli.
Milan vs. Fiorentina: Saturday, April 24th (Time TBA)
In any other year, this fixture could have been dubbed the Battle of the Bridesmaids, as both clubs fought tooth and nail to hold Juve's bridal train. However, for a variety of reasons, Milan and Fiorentina have ceded their position as the league's second-best club to Roma (and Sassuolo) but this seemingly benign fixture could decide the fortunes of everyone involved.
Best-Case Scenario: A Viola win would suit Roma just fine.
Worst-Case Scenario: A Milan win coupled with Roma and Sassuolo defeats could make the final two weeks of the season an epic three-team fight to the finish.
Roma vs. Sampdoria: Sunday, May 8th (Time TBA)
Newly-promoted Samp gave Roma a bit of a scare last December, hanging with them until the bitter end. After Paloma Lázaro opened the scoring in only the 15th minute, Roma seemed primed to rout their Ligurian neighbors, but a Stefania Tarenzi second-half goal leveled affairs, leaving Roma twisting in the wind before being bailed out by a 90th-minute own-goal. Yikes.
Best-Case Scenario: A little revenge would be nice. Roma shouldn't let Sampdoria hang around like that. A quick and clean victory in the season's penultimate round could make Roma's life a lot easier.
Worst-Case Scenario: A Sampdoria upset combined with Milan winning the derby against Inter. Throw in a dash of Juve being complacent against Sassuolo with the title presumably wrapped up and Roma’s bad weekend could become an unrelenting nightmare.
Inter vs. Milan: Sunday, May 8th (Time TBA)
Nothing like a late-season derby to potentially decide a European place, right? While this particular derby is lacking the same historical cache as the one on the men's side of the aisle, Inter and Milan have become fast...enemies, having met nine times in all competitions since the fall of 2019. This rivalry may not stretch back decades, but the enmity between the two clubs is plain for all to see—this is still the Derby della Madonnina we're talking about after all.
Best-Case Scenario: Inter wins or draws. Milan just has to drop points.
Worst-Case Scenario: Milan wins, which would compound any points dropped by Roma or Sassuolo.
Sassuolo vs. Juventus: Sunday, May 8th (Time TBA)
Now we're getting to the real meat of the issue. Presuming everything goes right for Roma between now and May 8th, their most-hated rival, Juventus, could deliver the Giallorosse to Europe next season. While the Old Lady are likely to have the league officially sewn up by this point, they are still in the throes of the Champions League knockout stages and could use this match to ensure things are fine-tuned, or they could rest everyone—we'll just have to wait and see. Either way, we're still talking about a club that has one defeat in nearly two years; they'll be prohibitive favorites.
Best-Case Scenario*: A typical Juve trouncing.
Worst-Case: Sassuolo scoring an epic late-season upset could doom Roma's CL chances.
*There is a chance, however remote, that if Roma runs the table in weeks 18-21 and Juventus falls to Sassuolo here, Roma could enter the final round only two points behind Juve, setting up a potential title-decider on the final day of the season.
Milan vs. Juventus: Sunday, May 15th (Time TBA)
In our asterisk scenario above, Juventus would enter this match only two points ahead of Roma, so there is really no worst-case scenario. If this somehow comes to pass, Roma are in a win-win position (assuming they also, you know, win): If Milan emerges victorious, Roma can potentially win the Scudetto. If, however, Juventus prevails and Roma wins their match, the capital club is still through to the ‘22-’23 Champions League.
Lazio vs. Roma: Sunday, May 15th (Time TBA)
Damn, imagine the Scudetto being decided by a Milan-Juve match and the Derby della Capitale! The odds are slim, but this is the stuff of legend. Lazio are likely heading straight back down to Serie B after making their top-flight debut this year, but you throw all common sense and good reason out the window when the pride of Rome is at stake. Case in point: Roma's 3-2 win over Lazio last December where they ran out to a 2-0 lead only to see Lazio level at 2-2 before Benedetta Glionna bailed out the Giallorosse in the 73rd minute.
Best-Case Scenario: Win. It's fucking Lazio. Doesn’t matter what's at stake. Just win.
Worst-Case Scenario: See above...only in reverse.
Sassuolo vs Inter: Sunday, May 15th (Time TBA)
I'm sure it’s coincidental, but the league schedule makers knocked it out of the park here; what a tremendous trio of matches to close out the season, and all with the league title and Champions League places on the line, to boot. With three wins in their prior four tries against Inter Milan, Sassuolo playing at home seems a safe bet to continue that streak, potentially stealing a European place in the process.
Best-Case Scenario: Inter wins. Plain and simple.
Worst-Case Scenario: Sassuolo wins. Roma loses. Sassuolo finishes in 2nd.
Will It Happen & Why Does It Matter?
Despite all the digital ink we just spilled, if Roma handles their business against Sassuolo this weekend, that six-point lead should become insurmountable, putting Roma in line for their first-ever Champions League appearances after only four seasons in existence. That's the easiest route, but if they stumble, the remaining four matches are all win-or-go-home.
I feel confident in saying Roma will retain second place and make their European debut next fall, but I'm almost at a loss for words when trying to properly explain the significance of this potential achievement. Four short years after cobbling together a roster comprised of unproven kids, journeywomen, and highlighted Elisa Bartoli's triumphant return to her hometown, the Giallorosse would enter the ranks of Europe's truly elite, and all at an auspicious time for the sport and the league.
With the professionalization of the league set to begin next season, as well as a leaner 10-team league with a new quasi-playoff format to decide the title/European places and promotion/relegation, the sport is set to turn over an exciting new leaf. And Roma becoming a genuine threat to Juventus at the top of the table while holding court with some of the best clubs in Europe at the same time could make the Giallorosse an intriguing destination for some of the game's best players.
Roma's foray into women's football was always meant to be a slow burn; a pragmatic, steady approach to team building. A rapid ascent would have been great, but those can quickly spiral the other way, so Bavagnoli was right to slow play this—and she's done it masterfully. Year-by-year, little-by-little, she's altered the face of the squad, bringing in talent from all over Europe and South America to add depth and breadth to the roster, to increase competition, and push her best players to even greater heights. And once it was time for her to step aside and take on a big-picture role, she chose the ideal replacement: a young, intelligent, and aggressive manager who plays to his squad's strengths, which are considerable.
It won't be easy by any means, but if Roma can master these next five weeks, the next five years could be incredibly prolific for the Giallorosse.