We have all had bad birthdays. Maybe your mother didn't get you the exact video game you wanted, maybe your cousin pissed in the ball crawl at Chuck E Cheese, or maybe your drunk uncle embarrassed you in front of your friends. Whatever the case may be, birthdays aren't always as wonderful as we expect them to be, but nothing about this season has been what Francesco Totti expected it to be, has it?
Relegated to a bit role, Totti will now celebrate his 39th birthday (more on that later) watching from the stands. Following yesterday's rousing victory over Carpi, one in which Totti played all of five minutes, Totti has been diagnosed with hip flexor strain, no minor injury for a player his age. The early prognosis will see Totti shelved for nearly a month, which could potentially see him miss four league matches and Roma's next two Champions League encounters against BATE Borisov and Bayer Leverkusen.
Making matters worse, Roma's other nominal forward, Edin Dzeko, may also be out of action for four weeks. Dzeko, who was actually subbed off for Totti, suffered a knee injury prior to the start of the second half, and the news isn't good. Dzeko has been diagnosed with a lesion to the collateral ligament in his right knee, an injury which may take three to four weeks to fully heal.
All of which means Roma will be without its top two center forwards for an absolutely critical stretch of matches. The aforementioned league matches—Palermo, Empoli, Fiorentina and Udinese—are all winnable but in order to keep the heat on Inter, Roma would probably have to take at least nine points from those four matches.
In terms of their Champions League slate, don't let the Lionel Messi injury lure you into a false sense of security; Group E is still Barça's to lose, so it is absolutely essential that Roma puts as much space between themselves and Leverkusen as possible.
So, in the absence of Totti and Dzeko, where will Rudi Garcia turn? While we're not entirely certain yet, fans of the FIFA franchise should be pretty excited, as the Juan Iturbe, Gervinho, Mohamed Salah frontline, a/k/a Speed Kills, might become a regular feature, but real life football isn't as simple as holding down the R1 and blowing by opponents.
However, as we mentioned last week, there is another extremely talented and extremely untested teenager waiting in the wings. If losing their top two strikers doesn't pave the way for Ezequiel Ponce to get some playing time, I'm not sure anything ever will.
This will be a litmus test for Rudi Garcia and his ability or simple willingness to use his reserves. While Mohamed Salah has been a revelation so far, we can't really rely solely upon him for an entire month; he's not that sort of player, Roma needs a new face to step up and take command up front.
Now is the time to throw Ponce to the wolves.