While Wednesdays return to the Champions League lived up to our wildest dreams, a 5-1 undressing of CSKA Moscow has given us all visions of European glory, it also delivered our greatest fears, an injury to a key player. Or players in this instance, as both Juan Iturbe and Davide Astori limped off the pitch during Wednesday's victory.
To call Iturbe's performance against CSKA Moscow influential is a gross disservice to the player and the word itself. In only 25 minutes of action, Iturbe not only scored the match's first goal, but set up two more, while looking like the most dangerous player on the pitch; and all this came in his first ever European match.
Then, in the 23rd minute, on a seemingly innocuous turn of play, Iturbe was tackled from behind while trying to maintain possession. While he didn't fall to the ground in any sort of panic, he immediately clutched at his hamstring/groin area, remaining seated as play continued, before ultimately coming off in the 26th minute for Alessandro Florenzi.
Roma was already up 3-0 at that point and Iturbe left the pitch under his own power, so the initial concerns weren't that great. Well, those concerns have grown in the 48 hours since the injury, with the latest news indicating Iturbe"s now strained right thigh could keep him sidelined for 30 days or more. Thigh injuries are a concern for any player because they tend to linger despite outward appearances of well-being, but when dealing with a player like Iturbe, for whom speed and agility is job one, these concerns become magnified as they can rob him of his greatest asset, and may not fully heal until the off-season.
Iturbe is set to have more tests today, so we'll keep you updated as the news breaks.
As far as Astori is concerned, his injury, at the moment in which it occurred, looked far more serious. With only a few minutes remaining in the match, Astori, pursuing Kirill Panchenko, attempted a sliding tackle, and while his left leg led with no problems, his right foot got stuck in the pitch causing all his body weight to fall on his now twisted right knee.
Astori, who had to be escorted off the pitch, is now understood to have a first degree strain of his right knee, an injury that could see him sidelined for upwards of three weeks, though this has yet to be officially confirmed.
These are the exact sort of scenarios you hope to avoid when playing in the Champions League, but it's hard to say which injury will have a greater impact. Roma certainly has other options on the wings in the form of Florenzi and Adem Ljajic, and while neither man presents the same sort of threat as Iturbe, Roma's offense wanted for little with Ljajic or Florenzi last season. Meanwhile, Astori's absence is exacerbated by what remains, making it more detrimental to Roma in the short term. Leandro Castan is far from 100% healthy, while Kostas Manolas and the newly signed Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa are still incredibly raw by Serie A standards; a situation which may force Daniele De Rossi into service in defense.
We've been stressing this all month, but these are the exact scenarios in which strong teams are truly revealed, where the wheat of the elite squads are separated from the chaff of the merely strong.
So, with matches against lesser Serie A sides likes Cagliari and Palermo, each of whom will come at them with guns blazing, and with Manchester City and Juventus looming at the end of the month, will Roma's depth be enough to weather this storm?