The first 24 - 48 hours are crucial in determining the likely outcome of soft-tissue injuries such as muscle strains or tears. How the injury is managed at that stage can influence the recovery process as a whole. On Wednesday night Cristiano Ronaldo came off right away against Villarreal, therefore giving himself a chance of getting away with a low level injury instead of trying to play on and making things worse. Manchester City will be watching with interest to see how this turns out.
Cristiano doesn't get injured too often. His appearance record for Real Madrid shows very few games missed through injury and if anything, his injury history tends to suggest that he plays on a bit too long when he should really be thinking about taking a break to allow the recovery process to take effect.
Everyone gets injured at some time in their careers and Cristiano is no exception to this. He has been bothered by soft tissue injuries of this type in the past and towards the end of last season was reported to be having Ozone Therapy for a tendon injury in his knee. At that stage he was even thinking about having the Platelet-rich Plasma injections that Luka Modric underwent in Vitoria, País Vasco, but withdrew as he felt that this was going to be too aggressive a treatment; plumping for the Ozone injections instead. A back injury early in pre-season didn't turn out to be anything to worry about either so his fitness has been at a high level most of the time.
This season Cristiano has been relatively injury free. However, he's created quite a scare in Madrid and perhaps a bit of relief in Manchester. The UK media have focused on this quite a lot since the Villarreal game and the general impression is that City are hoping Cristiano fails to make the trip. The one exception I've come across was a post by a City fan who desperately wants him to play as otherwise a City victory will be devalued! I'm not quite sure that Manuel Pellegrini would agree with that way of thinking.
On a more serious note it might well be as late as the weekend before we get to know whether Cristiano has a realistic chance of playing in Manchester. He's already had an ultrasound scan and as thorough an examination as it's possible to make within the first 24 hours of an injury being sustained.
Acute injuries such as a hamstring strain can actually be made worse by an over-enthusiastic examination, so for that reason it can be difficult to give anything other than a general impression until the actual trauma has settled. This normally takes anything between 24 and 48 hours; although in cases of severe injury the acute stage can exceed 72 hours. If there's any doubts over the diagnosis then the ultrasound scan will be followed up with a full MRI scan.
With Cristiano, though, early indications suggested that the injury wasn't considered to be serious and neither did Zinedine Zidane appear too concerned after the game. Explaining that coming off was purely precautionary, Zidane indicated that there are times in the season when Cristiano just needs to give himself a bit of a break.
It's unlikely that he will play at Vallecas this weekend, though, despite having a good scoring record against Rayo Vallecano. The main concern for Real Madrid will be in making sure that Cristiano is going to recover enough to allow him to take part in the Champions League semi-final, whether it's in the first leg this coming week or the second leg in the next.
Of course Zinedine Zidane is going to want to field his strongest side for the away leg, but he's hardly likely to do it if it means taking a chance with anyone who's currently injured. Having the knowledge that whoever he selects is likely to last the full ninety minutes is more important than putting players on the field who have a doubt over their fitness; even if it means leaving out those whose names are likely to be the first ones City are looking for on the team sheet.
Likewise, Gareth Bale's presence in Manchester will probably be decided by how well he comes through the Rayo Vallecano game since it appears that the Welsh international is likely to start in Vallecas. As with Cristiano, Zinedine Zidane is unlikely to take a chance on Gareth this Saturday if it means there could be a risk of aggravating any minor ailments that subsequently might not recover in time for the trip to Manchester. If there's any doubts over Gareth's fitness come Saturday then there may well be a late change of plan.
Paco Jémez' team have taken some valuable points in the last two games by beating Villarreal and then losing a late goal to Malaga on Wednesday. Victory over the Andalucian side would have seen Rayo Vallecano in a much better position than the five point lead they now have over third bottom Granada so they'll still be going all out to take something from the game this weekend. Vallecas is never an easy place to go to looking for a win and with this being a derby game it all adds a bit of spice to the occasion.
Real Madrid will be looking to avoid picking up any further injuries and if the players Zidane selects for the Rayo Vallecano game go there with one eye on Manchester that's when points are likely to be dropped. It's now getting really close at the top and everyone's going to have to focus 100% on coming away from Vallecas with a result.