If we ever needed proof positive that recovering from successive ACL injuries in both legs isn't a linear process, look no further than Sunday's defeat to Juventus. For the opening 20 minutes or so, Nicolo Zaniolo was arguably the most dangerous player on the pitch. Before leaving the game with a knee injury, Zaniolo amassed 17 touches and 17 carries, while pulling off two dribbles (out of three attempts) and creating three shots for his teammates. In a word, he was excellent.
While Zaniolo has had his ups and downs in this young season, little by little, the player that bullied opposing defenses was starting to wake up from his two-year slumber. So you could imagine the shock and horror on our faces when Zaniolo slinked down to the ground, grasping at his surgically repaired left knee. Almost immediately, our minds went to the darkest timeline: a third ACL tear.
Fortunately, Zaniolo's MRIs came back negative, allowing us all to breathe a tremendous sigh of relief after Sunday's bitter and controversial defeat. However, we're not out of the woods yet. While Zaniolo avoided serious injury, according to Il Messaggero, he may need upwards of two weeks to recover from the strained muscles around that surgically repaired ligament.
A two-week absence would not only see Zaniolo miss Roma's midweek trip to Norway to Face Boldo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League (though he likely would have been rested for that anyway) but this weekend's Derby del Sole against Napoli and potentially Roma's Halloween date with AC Milan.
In a perfect world, Zaniolo's triumphant return from successive ACL injuries would have gone off without a hitch, but we seldom, if ever, live in a perfect world, so there were always bound to be hiccups in Zaniolo's recovery.
What matters most is that he avoided further catastrophic injury, and as those opening 20 minutes against Juve proved, Zaniolo is still an incredibly dangerous player, even at less than 100%. Roma just has to keep him healthy over the long haul, which may require intermittent rest periods, whether they're injury/fatigue induced or not.
The 2021-2022 season was likely going to be a transition season for Zaniolo anyway, a time to prove that, first and foremost, he can make it through an entire season unscathed. Save the superlatives for next season, when the real Zaniolo should return unencumbered.
We'll pass along updates as they become available, but in his absence, José Mourinho will likely rely on some combination of Stephan El Shaarawy, Carles Pérez, and Eldor Shomurodov to fill Zaniolo's shoes.