Since entering Serie A Femminile in the fall of 2018, the women of Roma have run into the same brick wall as their male counterparts: the indomitable presence of Juventus. Just like the Old Lady ran roughshod over Serie A during the 2010s, winning the Scudetto every year between 2011 and 2020, they've enjoyed the same level of dominance in Serie A Femminile, winning the last five league titles, as well as the 2018-2019 Coppa Italia. And, as you probably could have guessed, that dominance has extended to their rivalry with Roma. In 10 prior meetings, the Giallorosse have toppled Juve only once: a 2-1 win in last season's Coppa Italia semifinals.
But this isn't your grandmother's Serie A Femminile. Yes, Roma only has one actual win against Juventus, but the margins between the two clubs are disappearing by the day. For the first time in club history, Roma qualified for the Champions League by virtue of finishing the season in second place, only five points adrift of the Old Lady. And as recently as Matchday 16, the Giallorosse had a chance to pull even with Juve at the top of the table but saw their hopes dashed thanks to an 11th-minute own goal by Angelica Soffia.
The club rebounded to finish the season on 54 points while boasting the league's best scoring record, the third-leading scorer and four of the top 10 assist women in the league. Any way you slice it, Roma and Juventus are on an increasingly level playing ground, which should make tomorrow's Coppa Italia finale an instant classic.
To get a glimpse at the black and white side of this budding rivalry, we turned to our friends at Black, White & Read All Over, who were kind enough to trade a series of questions with us ahead of Sunday's match. And be sure to check out our responses to their questions, including our take on the Agnese Bonfantini for Benedetta Glionna trade and much more!
Without further delay, onto the questions, and a big thanks to Danny for this time!
Juve’s grip on the league seems to be slipping despite winning the title again this season. Roma has obviously improved, but what do you attribute to the shrinking gap at the top? Is Juve simply getting too old where it matters most?
Black, White & Read All Over: I wouldn’t say the grip is slipping. They are still clearly the best team in the league and with professionalism coming next season I would think that they’re going to be a little more ambitious when it comes to the recruiting efforts this summer. The biggest thing this season that catches the eye is that they were throttling teams and scoring as many goals as last season, which is fine because they still won 19 of their 22 league fixtures and lost just one of them. There have been injuries to important players and they went through not one but two COVID outbreaks during the winter and then another one in the spring, which obviously kept a good number of the squad out.
But the biggest thing for me is that they had Europe and Serie A Femminile to focus on this season. They were one of the final eight teams standing in the Women’s Champions League, which meant squad rotation was happening much more than in previous seasons when it was just one game a week and no European play to worry about as the meat of the schedule arrived. Montemurro has really handled all the adversity this team has had pretty well. Sure, having a deep and talented squad helps and some of the players who he brings off the bench would start at every other club in Italy.
I wouldn’t say they’re slipping, honestly. It just wasn’t a statistically dominant season like we saw under Rita Guarino. Don’t get me wrong — it was still a very good season.
Going along with that, Juve’s number one weapon, Cristiana Girelli, saw her goal production drop precipitously this year (22 to 7)... so, uh, what the heck happened? And who will assume the mantle as the club’s best player?
BWRAO: Girelli’s an interesting case because she’s still very much in her prime at 32 years old, but she’s also seen a lot of players around her take on bigger roles within Montemurro’s system. She didn’t score a ton of goals in Serie A, sure, but she scored some huge ones in Europe, and that’s really where a talented striker like she is has come in handy quite often. (She also missed some time this season as she was forced to sit out due to COVID vaccination and Green Pass issues and then tested positive for the virus right before her birthday, so there was that as well.)
This was the definition of a season in which a ton of players contributed. Just look at the leading scorers and you see so many names with four, five, or six goals. It was more goal-scoring by committee rather than having Girelli and Barbara Bonansea scoring a huge chunk of the goals.
At the other end of the pitch, it’s been business as usual with Juve boasting the fewest goals conceded mark in the league. How have they been able to sustain such a stingy defensive record? And were you surprised they were able to maintain that level without star keeper Laura Giuliani?
BWRAO: The most surprising thing about Juve’s defense basically doing what they’ve always done is that it’s come in a year in which they brought in a new goalkeeper, Sara Gama missed a ton of time due to injury, Cecilia Salvai suffered another major knee injury midway through the season and continuity outside of Lisa Boattin at left back has been pretty much not there. PPM has proven to be a really good and smart signing in goal and I would say that she’s overall a better keeper than Giuliani is. (Just go watch some of the saves she made against Chelsea in the UWCL and you’ll see what I mean.) Martina Lenzini coming back from a couple of years on loan at Sassuolo has been a huge contributor with Gama and then Salvai being out. And thank goodness Linda Sembrant came back right as Salvai was injured because it brought her usual cool and calm presence to the center of defense.
Roma has only defeated Juve once in 10 previous encounters, but the margins between the two clubs are disappearing by the day, so where are Juve most vulnerable and how can Roma exploit that weakness?
BWRAO: If Roma are to hurt Juventus, it will be with speed down the center of the defense. I love Gama and Sembrant as much as anybody, but they’re both in their mid-30s and far from central defenders with a ton of pace, to begin with. Some of Juve’s goals this season haven’t exactly been ones you’d want to exactly see repeated with some silly defending. They’re still very good defensively, sure, but like every unit at the back can be their own worst enemy at times.
Roma has creative players and the ability to match Juve’s talent in midfield, so I think that’s where things are going to happen if that’s where they are going to happen. There will be some great individual battles out there, but seeing how the Roma and Juve midfielders match up might be my most anticipated of them all. This is going to be a really interesting tactical battle, too, and you gotta believe that it’s going to be centered around the two midfields.
How did our old friend Agnese Bonfantini fare this season? Could she become a key figure for the club going forward?
BWRAO: You know me from my Twitter activity, Bren, and there is no young Juve player I love watching more than Arianna Caruso as she’s bossing it in the midfield. There’s also no player I looked forward to seeing back in Turin after a loan spell as much as I did with Benedetta Glionna. Bonfantini is a close second to Caruso these days — and it’s pretty much based on how she has closed the season.
I wholeheartedly believe that Bonfantini has star potential. She’s shown it in Europe this season, and some of those impressive performances came against one of the best clubs in the world that just so happened to win a bunch of Women’s Champions League titles in a row in Lyon. Montemurro has really seemed to tap into that potential and find the right kind of formula to allow her to thrive. Right now, she might be more of a super-sub than a full-time starter because trying to dethrone Bonansea and Lina Hurtig on the wings is a tough task to go after. But if there is somebody who could unseat somebody who is as steady as Hurtig is, then you gotta think it’s Bonfantini and her huge amount of upside.
The best thing is that, like Caruso, Bonfantini is still just 22 years old and looks like she’s just getting started.
And finally, who will win Saturday’s match and why is it Roma?
BWRAO: I don’t think it will be Roma, but I do think it is going to be one hell of a game between two really good teams. I’ll say 3-2 in favor of Juventus in what proves to be a completely wide-open match. This one should be fun and live up to the billing with the top two teams in Serie A this season facing one another one last time before we turn our attention toward the Euros.
Thanks again to Danny for his insights. Roma and Juve will fight for the Coppa Italia tomorrow at 8:15 EDT/2:15 CET.