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Roma's Defense Ravaged By Injuries Ahead of Cluj and Napoli Fixtures

Juan Jesus is literally the only healthy center back at the moment.

AS Roma v Parma Calcio 1913 - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With the obvious exceptions of Nicolo Zaniolo and Giada Greggi, Roma have been fortunate to avoid the same level of catastrophic injuries they usually endure. But, this is still Roma we're talking about, a club that practices on an adamantium training pitch, so they haven't been able to avoid the scourge of muscle injuries that have always haunted them. Typically, we see a spread of injuries throughout the squad; a midfielder here, a forward there, maybe a defender in the corner clutching his shins, but seldom do we see one position particularly decimated by the injury bug—until now.

Roma are staring down the barrel of a critical three-matches-in-a-week stretch in which they travel to Romania to face Cluj in the Europa League on Thursday, come home and then travel south to Napoli for the Derby del Sole on Sunday before welcoming BSC Young Boys to the Olimpico next Thursday.

It's a span in which Roma can effectively seal Group A in the Europa League while also scoring their biggest domestic victory to date, and it's also a span in which their center-back core has been decimated by injury and illness—almost literally.

The textbook definition of decimate means to “kill, destroy or remove a large part of” or, in the classical sense, it means to kill one out of ten soldiers as a means of punishment for the whole group.

While things aren't quite that extreme, with Roger Ibañez and Gianluca Mancini dealing with muscular injuries, Chris Smalling nursing a sore left knee and Marash Kumbulla and Federico Fazio dealing with COVID-19, Juan Jesus stands as literally the only intact center back on the roster. Decimated.

All of which puts Roma manager Paulo Fonseca in a precarious position: how in the world is he supposed to weather this storm? If Ibañez, Mancini and Smalling can't recover in time, Fonseca may be forced to not only field a midfielder in defense, he may have to change formations entirely.

Accordingly, speculation is already spreading that Fonseca may revert to a four-man backline with Juan Jesus and Bryan Cristante serving as the central pairing, flanked by Bruno Peres at right-back and Riccardo Calafiori, who recently recovered from a bout with COVID, at left-back against Cluj—presumably he'll save Leonardo Spinazzola for the Napoli fixture next weekend.

When faced with a similar spate of injuries last fall, Fonseca rose to the occasion—mixing and matching pieces, making a midfielder out of Mancini—and truly started to silence his doubters.

Roma are in a far better position than they were last fall, but this rash of injuries will push Fonseca's creativity to the limits.

Let's just hope he covers Juan Jesus in a protective sheath of bubble wrap in the meantime.