Top midfielders, broadly, can be classified into two categories. The first one would include the physically gifted guys who, despite possessing excellent technical skills or not, use their superior physical attributes to romp on the pitch. Examples of such players would include Essien, Yaya Toure, Khedira and Matic. These players more often than not trump and win their battles using their physical prowess. The second type would be the hobbits or wood-elves of the midfield. They may or may not be physically gifted, but their primary gifts are their vast array of ‘tekkers’. Players like Xavi, Gerrard, Lampard and Pirlo fit this mold. Ramires, because of his high road-runner type of stamina and top-speed finds himself in the first category.
When Ramires rose to prominence after the 2010 World Cup with Brazil and after a stellar season at club level with SL Benfica, Chelsea snapped him up to add some legs to a midfield that had stalwarts like Essien perennially on the treatment table. Initially, he was only thought of to be a runner with no tekkers at all, and it was not until after a decent adaptation period – when he eventually came into his own against Arsenal by setting up a Cole cross for a Drogba goal after an astute interception – that people started seeing the purpose of Chelsea signing him.
Currently, if I’m asked what skills Ramires offers to the Chelsea lineup, my answer would be that he’s a midfield harasser with high stamina, helpful in pressing high up the pitch and providing much-needed dynamism in his bursts. This judgement of mine is also given weight by the role he’s employed in with Chelsea or Brazil. Ramires is most usually played in the box-to-box role of a 4-3-3 or as the more defensive half of a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1. These roles bring out the best of Ramires as he’s provided the liberty of using his high work rate to close down opponents and also being a part of a rapid counter-attack, with the surety that he’ll be back in his position when the opposition attacks.
Often, in games where Chelsea are the underdogs, Ramires is played on the wings, acting as a defensive winger. He can use his blitzing speed on the wings coupled with trademarked Brazilian step-overs to get past fullbacks, but return back to defend and double up against the opposition winger. Most prominent examples of Ramires playing on the wings would be against Napoli to double up against Lavezzi and also against Spurs in previous years to negate and shackle Gareth Bale. One might say that Ramires was played on the wing against Barcelona at the Camp Nou where he executed the most delicately delicious chip scored in the Champions League in recent seasons. But I wouldn’t consider that game as a purely winger role performed by Ramires, as the whole team merely parked the bus looking for the odd counter after Terry’s red card.
Ramires, despite providing high work rate, remains a polarising figure among the Chelsea faithful, and rightly so. Because he possesses such a high speed, he often finds himself in one-on-one situations, where his lack of technical skills, including finishing, let him down. He often has a window open for a fraction of a second to play a pass that might start off a counter attack, but he fails to spot it. When his dog-like running in the middle is deemed useless against opponents like Stoke, where the midfield is bypassed very often, he cuts a frustrated figure. Said frustration also finds an outlet very often. As is testament in the red card he received recently against Villa, he is prone to frustration-induced fouling bouts. He often commits fouls persistently, that then land the whole team in trouble. This season, he has developed a new habit that is very much defaming to the sport and the club. Against Albion, Ramires dived to earn a late, late penalty that was converted to give Chelsea a draw. He also dived against Derby in the FA Cup, though he received a booking for said incident. Mourinho has been openly critical of his diving.
Despite him not being a complete midfielder, he has made 28 appearances this season in the PL, racking up 2472 minutes. His season stats worth noting are :
The upcoming picture demonstrated his lack of finishing skills. Having found himself the opportunity of taking 32 cracks at the goal, with 12 of them on target, he can only boast of a solitary goal. Lesser profligacy would have resulted in nearly half a dozen more goals, having also missed 2 clear cut chances.
His defensive contributions are well documented in the following snapshot. He has made a whopping 80 tackles, wining 77.5% of them. Though he has been dribbled past 56 times, he is yet to register a defensive error.
His passing skills are often chastised. Yet, he’s managed a pass nearly every 2 minutes, with an open play pass completion rate of 84%. The majority of his passes are documented to be forwards or sideways. His low pass per minute shows very well why he does not fit into the deep lying playmaker profile.
What sets midfielders like Nemanja Matic apart from others is that they rarely lose the ball. They might not make a useful contribution but they will recycle possession if a forward outlet is unavailable. This is a major flaw in Ramires’ game. He is only 26, hence yet to enter his peak years, so he might be expected to improve upon his ball retention skills, which see him having lost possession 366 times in his 27 (+1) appearances.
Ramires might not be a complete midfielder, nor might he ever become one, but he remains crucial to Chelsea’s midfield. His tireless running and dynamism are vital to the club’s high pressing system, but he needs to inculcate consistency into his game. Also required for sure-shot success is the sharpening of technical skills, that would aid him in roughening his edges and becoming a better rounded player. As a friend once told me, it’s easier to coach technical skills that boost one’s physical abilities. The same might be valid in Ramires’ case. He is a player who has shown nothing but constant improvement over the years and nothing less is expected in the forthcoming years as well if he is to cement his place in the Chelsea lineup for the years to come.