Fans of North American sports are certainly familiar with the concept of expansion teams (and even leagues, in some instances), and while these new ventures—with their new logos, uniforms, names, and faces—are exciting, these teams typically struggle in their first few seasons. Lacking the traditions, talent, and top-down infrastructure of their more established peers, fans of these clubs are forced to endure years of futility as these new teams struggle to find their feet.
While there is no definitive blueprint, it typically takes several years for expansion teams to identify and recruit the right people to lead the project, establish a sporting identity and develop a reliable stable of young talent. There are exceptions to this rule (think of the Las Vegas Golden Knights miracle run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their 2017 debut season), but typically these new clubs fall flat on their face in their first few seasons, like the 1962 New York Mets who won only 25% of their games, or the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers who went 0-14 during their first NFL season.
So why are we talking about this during a Juventus-Roma match preview?
Simple, with a victory over Juventus on Saturday, the Giallorosse, who only came into existence in 2018, can achieve another important benchmark on their developmental curve: claiming (a share of) first place in Serie A Femminile. After a pair of somewhat surprising fourth-place finishes in their first two seasons, Roma fell one spot during the 2020-2021 campaign but finished the season on a high note, claiming the 2021 Coppa Italia; the first trophy in club history.
And with a managerial change this summer and a spate of high-profile transfers, Roma's fourth season in the league could have gone any number of directions. However, thanks to Alessandro Spugna's stewardship, the stellar play of club leaders Manuela Giugliano and Elena Linari (among others), and a gaggle of talented scorers, the Giallorosse have quietly put together their finest season yet.
Thanks in part to their nine-match Serie A winning streak, Roma find themselves tucked into second place on 37 points after 15 rounds of play. And thanks to Empoli's enormous upset over Juventus last week—their first league loss in two years—Roma actually has a chance to join Juve at the top of the table. A victory over the Old Lady on Saturday would put Roma even with Juventus on 40 points, and depending on the final score, the Giallorosse could wrap up the weekend in first place with only six matches remaining in the season.
The Giallorosse may not have been an expansion team in the truest sense of the word (they essentially just bought another club's license; a move we've seen nearly every summer as more traditional Italian clubs expand their reach into women's football) but Betty Bavagnoli started the club with a blank slate, making their recent progress even more impressive. From a squad initially comprised of Italians (many of whom were Romans) to the increasingly cosmopolitan (and talented) squad we've seen over the past two years, Bavagnoli has done a masterful job transforming Roma from a mere curiosity to a legitimate title contender.
But they're not there quite yet. And the biggest bugaboo bewitching Bavagnoli and the Giallorosse has been the Old Lady of Italian Football, the four-time reigning champions of Serie A Femminile.
Despite the importance of this match, we're going to put a slightly different spin on our normal match preview format and view this matchup through a good news-bad news lens.
The Bad News: Juventus Are Really *&$%ing Good
Since Juve entered the league in 2017, the Old Lady has amassed a ridiculous 87-5-5 (W-D-L) record while sporting an equally absurd +243 goal differential. Parity and Serie A Femminile seldom walk hand-in-hand, but that's still an incredibly impressive record. Any way you slice it, Juve has set the gold standard for women's football in Italy. With talents like Cristiana Girelli and Barbara Bonansea leading the attack and national team captain Sara Gama holding down the fort at the back, Juventus has been practically unstoppable—a trend that, until last week against Empoli, has carried over to 2022.
Through 15 rounds of play, Juventus leads the league in goals scored, fewest goals conceded, goal differential, passing accuracy, headed goals, and set-piece goals while ranking in the top three in total shots, shots on target, possession percentage, and haven't lost at home over their past 38 contests.
And when it comes to dominating Roma, they've got that down pat, winning eight of nine matches while sporting a +24 goal differential. Roma's only positive results against Juventus came in the second leg of last season's Coppa Italia Semifinals; a tie Roma only advanced through thanks to an 88th-minute goal from Lindsey Thomas.
But it’s not all bad news for the Giallorosse...
The Good News: Roma Are Pretty *&$%ing Good, Too
There's no need to mince words here: Roma are the hottest team in the league at the moment. With nine wins on the trot (a club record and the longest streak of any team this season), Roma are riding an incredible high at the moment and have managed nearly every sort of victory along the way: stacking up five goals beatdowns, eking out one-nill nailbiters, staging thrilling comebacks and even winning the first-ever Derby della Capitale in Serie A Femminile.
And the fine print has been just as kind to the Giallorosse, who lead the league in possession, total shots, shots on target, and goals scored from outside the area while ranking in the top four in passing percentage, set-piece goals, fewest goals conceded, goals scored and goal differential.
Spurred on by the likes of Elena Linari (league leader in passes completed), Andressa Alves (league leader in chances created, joint-third in assists) Manuela Giguliano (second in chances created, joint-third in assists), Benedetta Glionna (joint-third in assists), and recent signee Emilie Haavi (three goals and three assists in only four matches), Roma are strong, swift and technical in all phases of the game.
What Will it Take to Win?
Would it be too harsh to say sheer perfection? The margins between these two sides may be narrowing by the day, but Juventus has owned this rivalry since Roma joined the league in 2018—and calling it a rivalry is being extremely kind to Roma. With only one victory in nine chances (and a narrow one at that), Alessandro Spugna will have to draw up a flawless gameplan tomorrow, one captain Elisa Bartoli will have to ensure her squad implements with equal perfection.
Speaking to Roma TV on Friday, Spugna shed a bit of light on his tactics ahead of Saturday's match, giving special mention to the possession battle and using the influence of Roma's most dangerous players to pin Juve back.
"It's great to play in these matches ... we'll see what we can do."— AS Roma Women (@ASRomaWomen) March 4, 2022
️ Coach Alessandro Spugna gives his thoughts ahead of Saturday's top-of-the-table meeting with Juventus!
#ASRomaWomen #ASRoma pic.twitter.com/22lzYOdJhI
All of that is far easier said than done of course, but for the first time in four years, it no longer feels impossible. And a win tomorrow could upset the league's entire power balance, putting Roma in the driver's season for the Scudetto and one of next season's two Champions League places.
Do. Not. Miss. It. (Folks in the US can catch it on ATA Football)