After a successful stint in Glasgow last month, where Roma defeated Glasgow City and Paris FC, the Giallorosse moved on to the next round of the Champions League qualification process: a two-legged tie against Czech club Sparta Prague. After a tepid first half in which neither club found the back of the net last week, Prague drew first blood in the 51st minute, potentially putting Roma on the back heel ahead of today's return leg.
However, thanks to a 77th-minute goal from Elisa Bartoli and a 90th-minute stunner from Emilie Haavi, the capital club is holding court today at the Tre Fontane, the fourth and final stop on Roma's journey to the Champions League Group Stage. With a one-goal advantage in their back pocket, Alessandro Spugna's side should be brimming with confidence ahead of today's match, but, as always, Spugna exercised caution.
"Non dobbiamo pensare al risultato dell'andata, dobbiamo cercare di vincerla per arrivare ai gironi"— AS Roma Femminile (@ASRomaFemminile) September 28, 2022
L'intervista di Alessandro Spugna alla vigilia della gara contro lo Sparta Praga#UWCL #ASRomaFemminile pic.twitter.com/bjsqWh3TVl
"We must not think about the result in the first leg. We must play our game, showing what we can do and trying to win. It would mean we would progress to the group stage. That's our aim."
When asked what worries him most about Sparta Prague, Spugna didn't mince words.
"Their physicality and their experience. They're a very physical side. They have players with lots of experience in this competition. Lots of them play for the national side, so that's the biggest thing for them."
Roma was able to weather that storm last week (and on the road no less), but before we delve into the specifics of today's match, a quick look back at the first leg in Prague.
September 21st: Sparta Prague 1, Roma 2
While you can do the "yeah, but" or "what if" dance after any match, last week's final score was a bit misleading. With missed chances from Giada Greggi, Manuela Giugliano, and Valentina Giacinti in the first half, Roma could have opened up the second half with a two-goal lead, paving the way for a 45-minute cakewalk to wrap up the first leg.
Give Prague credit for capitalizing on an egregious Giugliano error, but factor in misses from Paloma Lázaro and Benedetta Glionna deep in the second half, and Roma could have easily walked away four or five-nil winners last week.
However, as Spugna alluded, last week's results don't matter, so let's take a look at what to...
Keep An Eye On
Three at The Back?
While Spugna did his best to deflect any tactical questions in his pre-match conversation with Roma TV, he may have no choice but to shift gears from his preferred four-woman backline. With star center-back Elena Linari and full-back Lucia Di Guglielmo out with leg injuries, Spugna stuck with his four-at-the-back approach against Prague in the first leg, using Moeka Minami and Carina Wenninger in the middle with Bartoli and Elin Landström as the full-back pairing.
However, last weekend against Fiorentina, Spugna shuffled the deck, using Minami, Wenninger, and Beata Kollmats in the heart of a 3-5-2, with Annamaria Serturini and Benedetta Glionna serving as the wing-backs.
If, as Spugna claims, Prague's calling card is their physicality, then perhaps using the pace, agility, and dribbling of Serturni and Glionna out wide could overwhelm Prague, paving the way for a place in the group stage.
Can They Finish?
While they haven't been bewitched by the back of the goal quite like José Mourinho's side, the Giallorosse have dented goalposts from Glasgow to Prague and every place in between. The good news is that Spugna has more attacking options than ever, particularly now that Valentina Giacinti (three goals in her last four) is starting to heat up. Between Giacinti, Lázaro, and even Sophie Roman Haug, who bagged her first goal of the year against Fiorentina last weekend, the law of averages would suggest Roma's luck will turn soon.
But take another look at those highlights and tell me what you see. With Giugliano and Andressa pulling the strings, Roma was able to exploit the Prague defense from nearly every conceivable angle in the final third, with Serturini and Haavi spreading the opposing full-backs thin while Giugliano and Andressa threaded ball after ball into the box for Giacinti and Lázaro to feast on.
With some sharper finishing in the final area, Prague won't stand a chance.