Ramires was brought to Chelsea primarily to play as a central/defensive midfielder. However, last season he enjoyed fine spells for the club operating as a make-shift right winger under Roberto di Matteo playing a crucial role in the side’s FA cup and Champions League run. As a result of this, many fans feel that his future is on the right flank, rather than in central midfield. This has been fuelled by the player being selected wide right in the club’s recent friendlies versus AC Milan and Brighton. This article will argue that he is best as a central midfielder.
Ramires’ role last season
Ramires played 19 league games as a central midfielder last season and 9 games as a wide player in the Premier League. He mainly operated as a central midfielder under AVB in what was a 4-3-3 only being used out wide on one or two occasions. In the early part of the season when Chelsea were under performing it was Mata and Ramires who stood out as the club’s top performers. Ramires’ contribution from centre midfield was excellent as he added more goals to his game as well as being a willing runner both in offence and defence.
When Robert di Matteo took charge of the club the formation was altered from a 4-3-3 to more of a 4-4-1-1. Sturridge played the majority of games on the right under AVB but, as a converted forward, was deemed too much of a defensive liability to operate in the wide right role. The role of the right sided player became primarily a counter attacking role with defensive responsibility in what was essentially a 4 man midfield; Ramires playing wide with the two anchoring central midfielders in Mikel and Lampard. RDM opted for Ramires because of his obvious defensive ability and work-rate but also because Chelsea lacked a natural wide right player. Malouda was a left midfielder, as was Kalou and Sturridge was a forward not a midfielder.
Ramires’ role was as much about tracking opposition wingers/full-backs as it was about breaking forward. On a number of attacks Ramires was the focal point for counter attacks on the right due to his pace, for example with the FA Cup final opener he scored against Liverpool raiding down the right flank. Ramires actually completed more dribbles than any other Chelsea player last season with 1.4 per game. In a defensive capacity the move worked excellently also, as against Barcelona in the Champions League first leg he was used as a left midfielder with the view to tracking the runs of Dani Alves. The switch was as much out of necessity as anything else. Chelsea became a reactive side under RDM and Ramires was essential to this due to his pace and tactical discipline which allowed him to complete transitions between defence and offence comfortably. All in all Ramires was probably Chelsea’s best (or one of their best) players last season scoring an impressive 5 goals in the Premier League and 12 goals in all competitions.
Where does Ramires play best?
For me Ramires is not a wide player, but best as a box-to-box central midfielder where he can balance his defensive and attacking abilities. With the acquisition of Hazard and Oscar, as well as Chelsea being linked with other attacking wide players such as Schurrle and Moses (who both operate wide right) it seems likely that the side will move to a 4-2-3-1 with three attacking midfielders in behind the striker. Ramires will thus in my view return to central midfield where he plays best. As a winger last season he only managed to play 2 successful crosses out of 44 attempted, which indicates that he is not the best natural wide player, further to this he only managed one assist in the Premier League.
Ramires defensive abilities are definitely good enough for him to play in a more disciplined role. He was Chelsea’s top tackler last season with 2.8 per game as well as completing 1.9 interceptions per game. This is even better when we consider he spent 9 games out wide in the Premier League. His distribution is also good with an accuracy of 85.1% (made worse by the high number of crosses he misplaced) which further highlights his ability to perform in a more central role.
The likelihood is that he may start centrally once Chelsea have Mata and Oscar back from Olympic duty. However Ramires will still provide an option on the right especially if Chelsea are playing against particularly strong opposition. Ramires can provide insurance on the right wing as a more defensive option than either Mata or Hazard who are less inclined and less able to track back. Ramires stamina and work rate make him exceptional at fulfilling this role as well as the central midfield role.
Ramires operates best as a central midfielder, preferably in a 3 man midfield where he can attack and defend. Any central midfield role this season would require a more defensive outlook due to the 4-2-3-1 set up from Chelsea. His dynamic runs might have to be less frequent if he does operate more centrally which would be a shame, but as his defensive stats show he does have the ability to play more of a disciplined game if needs be.
To play as a natural wide man is a waste of Ramires’ talent. He is not technical enough to place precision balls into the box and despite being fast on the ball he is also not the most skilful player to beat opposition full-backs. Ramires’ as a winger represents a make-shift player who can track full-backs and put in a great team shift. His best position is central midfield which is where he should be utilized next season. In this role we’d get the best out of him both offensively and defensively where he can use his pace and stamina to complete transitions between attack and defence.