Our columnist takes a look at another encouraging display from Betty Bavagnoli's side...
The outstanding start to 2021 for Roma Women continued on Sunday with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Empoli.
Paloma Lazaro scored in the first half and Manuela Giugliano in the second to give Roma a win by the same scoreline they had lost by in the reverse fixture.
Roma’s performance was another sign of how far they have come since those first few weeks of the campaign, with Betty Bavagnoli’s side looking stronger with every passing week.
Roma have now won seven games in a row, including a perfect record of four wins from four in Serie A since the turn of the year.
Now up to fourth in the table as a result, Roma are charging ahead – and the game against Empoli outlined some of the qualities they have developed over the past couple of months.
Sunday’s game was by no means an easy affair. Particularly in the second half, while only one goal still separated the two sides, Empoli put a lot of pressure on Roma.
That pressure was relieved when Giugliano finished off a clinical counter attack in the 80th minute, giving Roma a more comfortable lead.
Latching onto a ball over the top that landed around the half-way line, Giugliano took it under her control and raced towards the goal.
With two Empoli defenders trying to catch up with her, she could not afford the slightest error of control and had to keep running at pace.
Maintaining control of the ball while under such pressure and covering such distance is not as simple as it looks, but Giugliano made it appear so. She focused on the space in front of her rather than the pressure behind her, intent on getting a goalscoring opportunity.
When an unmarked Claudia Ciccotti made a run to her left, Giugliano had the option to pick out a pass that would have left her fellow midfielder with a tap-in. Instead, she took on the responsibility herself, striking the ball past Alessia Cappelletti and into the bottom corner of the Empoli goal.
Giugliano’s determination and technical ability ensured Roma put daylight between themselves and their opponents, effectively confirming the three points.
It was the reward for a strong display from the Italian midfielder, who was at the heart of Roma’s attack with more shots and passes than any other player. She has now scored in three consecutive Serie A games for the first time in her Roma career – and the latest of those was pivotal to another victory.
During the tense minutes before that decisive goal, Roma had to rely on a number of key personnel at the back to preserve their lead and clean sheet.
For example, Camelia Ceasar made some crucial interventions in goal, and Elisa Bartoli led by example in managing the game. But perhaps the most important player in the defensive third was Elena Linari.
The centre-back continued her positive start to life as a Roma player with another assured display at the back.
When the game was still in the balance, her speed, determination and knowhow were critical for Roma. She exuded calmness to her fellow defenders and showed the way in terms of winning the ball.
Linari won all of the tackles she attempted and three of her four duels, not committing a single foul.
There was one moment that epitomised her performance, when in the second half, she sprinted to make up ground and get to the ball before an Empoli attacker, who otherwise would have been one on one with Ceaser.
The desire Linari showed to get back into position and deny the opposition a chance was exactly what Bavagnoli would want to see from all her players.
While it was a defensive stubbornness that ensured Roma held on to their win, the attacking prowess they showed throughout the game should not be overlooked.
Roma made full use of the breadth of their attack by heavily involving their wide players – particularly down the right-hand side.
Bavagnoli had a dilemma with who to deploy in that territory, as Agnese Bonfantini had produced a standout performance in the last game before the international break, a Coppa Italia win over Florentia.
For most league games this season, though, Lindsey Thomas has occupied that right-wing position – and Bavagnoli kept her faith in the French forward for the return to Serie A action.
Thomas was influential, providing the cross that led to Lazaro’s opening goal and creating many more chances throughout.
Later in the game, Thomas moved to a more central position when Bonfantini came on as a substitute, showing that there is a way to integrate them both in the team if required.
Both of them are major assets to this team and Thomas in particular is showing how important she can be, even without scoring.
Thanks to their resilience at the back, Roma kept a third consecutive clean sheet in Serie A.
It marks just the second time Roma have ever achieved that, with the only previous run of three clean sheets in the league coming back in October 2019.
If they can keep out Verona in their next game on Saturday – as they did in the reverse fixture against that opponent – then it would be Roma’s longest spell of consecutive shutouts.
In fact, of all the teams in Serie A, only Sassuolo have conceded fewer goals in all competitions than Roma so far in 2021 – and they have played two fewer games. It goes to show how strong the Giallorosse have been defensively in recent weeks.
And as long as they keep up their goalscoring form at the other end – the last five wins in a row have all been by a margin greater than one goal – Roma will have a strong base from which to continue their ever-improving form.