WHEN IT COMES to our Brazilian Energizer Bunny, the strengths and weaknesses of his game are not top secrets. Filed under the "smiley face" are his pace, stamina and never-say-die attitude. On the other hand, his first touch, passing and physical strength could be found in the "sad/indifferent face" folder. We may disagree on a couple of things, but broadly speaking, we know what Ramires can and can't do.
However, it is rather interesting to hear the man himself talk about the strengths and weaknesses of his game and how he deals with them; he did this in last month's issue of Four Four Two. Furthermore, with all the brand new signings this summer, his potential role in the next campaign has been a lively topic of discussion, and knowing his game can help us determine which position fits him the best. His quotes and my thoughts after the jump.
When I first came to England I used to fall more often and I noticed that the fans were not happy. But I wasn’t diving; I just wasn’t used to the physical nature of the English game. As you can see I’m not really strong, so I always have to hit hard – but fair – otherwise I’ll get hurt. I try to do it straight away, to intimidate the opponent. But I know it doesn’t really work. It’s like starting a fight: if you hit, the other will hit back, and it goes like this until the end of the game. But it does show them you won’t run away from a battle.We definitely saw the combative side of Ramires last season. The Brazilian was not shy to tackle or duel in a 50-50 challenge. The stats backs this up. He topped both Foul Suffered (60) and Foul Committed (72) categories in the squad. Four Four Two also makes the claim that Ramires tackled every 23 minutes in the league last season, the highest among the midfielder (sharing the top spot with Tottenham's Scott Parker).
I attributed most of Ramires' feisty approach to Villas-Boas' pressing football: when you press harder, you commit more fouls, make more tackles and etc. But I really didn't know that there was a conscious effort from Ramires to intimidate the opponent. I'm sure AVB's tactics also played a role, but Ramires' aggressive style of play apparently was his way of adapting to a physical league.
Receiving the Ball
As I’m not so strong, if I receive the ball with an opponent on my back I try to pass as soon as possible. I try to avoid playing with my back to goal as much as I can, as it’s better to face an opponent front-on.These quotes are found in a piece titled "Stand Up To The Big Boys," and that's why these comments about his physical strength keep coming up. This particular quote (and the next one) is illuminating with respect to the kind of position that fits Ramires best. In order to fit him into the starting eleven alongside the newly acquired attacking talents, some want to push Ramires into the double pivot role of a 4-2-3-1.
However, a player has to be able to play with his back to the opposition's goal in that central position (e.g. receiving passes from his defenders). It is true that one can avoid physical pressure in that situation by releasing the pass quickly but sometimes, there are no good substitutes for physical strength; when the opposition is pressing your defense hard, for instance, the best option might be to hold the ball for a bit instead of a quick return pass. Unlike Ramires, I think Lampard and Mikel can do this effectively because they are stronger.
If I’m supposed to mark a player who’s much stronger than me, I know that I can’t get too close and try to use my arms, otherwise I’ll be run over by him. So I try to give them a bit more space and wait for the right moment to pounce. I can’t compete against them in strength, so I use my agility instead.This is a very smart defensive approach: keep your distance when marking a stronger opponent and wait for the right time to make a move. But again, you can't always do that in a double pivot when you are shielding your defense around your box. Giving time and space could be dangerous if the opponent can shoot or make a killer pass. Sometimes, it is best to pressure the opponent with your body strength. Plus, being in the double pivot means that you will have to cover your central defenders from time to time; I would much rather see Mikel/Lampard/Romeu/Meireles do that than Ramires.
OF COURSE RAMIRES could play in the double pivot if he were a good distributor of the ball, but he isn't, at least not at the level of Lampard. His pace and stamina, however, makes him an ideal player to use in the right side of midfield in a 4-3-3 or a 4-diamond-2, and of course on the flanks as a defensive winger (4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3). This, however, doesn't mean that we can NEVER play him in that central position; it is simply not his best position. There will be a lot of competition in this Chelsea squad, but Ramires won't be alone. There are a lot of games to be played this season and rotation will be the norm.
Carefree, wherever you may be...