Are Chelsea a better team without Ramires?
If Chelsea are going to rescue anything from a disappointing season, then they need to be cruel to be kind.
Certainly the Stamford Bridge crowd have afforded Rafa Benitez few sentiments, and neither have the Chelsea board in their treatment of club legends Roberto Di Matteo and Frank Lampard.
So following that lead—and with a heavy heart—I'll be explaining why I think Ramires needs to be dropped for Chelsea to become a more complete side over the next few months.
Since signing from Benfica in the summer of 2010, the Brazilian midfielder has become something of a cult hero. Mention Ramires' name and I immediately envisage him lunging in to nick the ball away from an opponent or embarking on a lung-bursting run at either end for the cause of the team.
His standing as a fan favourite has also been boosted by a couple of crucial goals, and overall, his effort and endeavour can never be questioned.
But is he the right fit for the current shape and setup?
Arguably Ramires' best performances for the Blues have come playing to the right of a three-man central midfield where his all-action, box-to-box style is allowed to flourish, but since the side have switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation, the 25-year-old has become stuck between a rock and a hard place.
He has been deployed primarily as one of two holding midfielders and on occasion has also been pushed out wide right, and in my opinion, neither are particularly his best positions.
With Victor Moses back from the African Cup of Nations and Marko Marin coming into form and fitness, Benitez has enough options in his three floating positions to not need Ramires to fill one of those slots.
That means if the Brazilian international is to get into a game, it will be as one of the two in the middle where Ramires' strengths are also his weaknesses.
The founding principles of the 4-2-3-1 is that a base is provided by two anchor men to allow the rest the freedom to roam around causing danger. In that case, Ramires has needed to reel in his offensive instincts to charge forward and as such, a massive part of his game has largely been made redundant.
For the 4-2-3-1 to work, the anchor men need to have an understanding partnership akin to that of the centre-backs. They need to operate close together, lending support, covering each other's space and forging an agreement as to who goes forward and when.
Ramires has the energy and mobility to cover plenty of ground, but in my opinion, he doesn't have the necessary discipline to maintain his position, and his proclivity to chase the ball all over the pitch often isolates his partner and therefore the defence.
For me, Chelsea would be better suited playing two from John Obi Mikel, David Luiz and Frank Lampard. Of course, Lampard will never nullify his surges into the box, but watch closely and he is a past master of picking his moment to arrive on time when it's conducive to do so—Ramires is not.
The other benefit of playing two from Lampard, Luiz or Mikel is that that trio are all more adept at dictating play from deep, influencing forward matters from a defensive station whilst not compromising the bond which is so vital to the overall makeup of the side.
Ramires is largely an instinctive player, most effective when seizing on loose balls and springing forward at pace. When he's asked to think about things his passing is erratic and too many balls are either misplaced or misjudged, and that too brings about its own issues.
Individually, the back four have all had their own problems this season, but they can be assisted with a solid barrier placed in front and unfortunately, for me, Ramires does not form part of that partnership.
What is Chelsea's best combination in midfield?
Too often the central midfield area hasn't been strong enough, and Ramires' lack of positional sense has been pivotal to that. I feel the side would be better served with two genuine "sitters" linking the defensive and offensive facets.
But by no means does this mean that Chelsea's No. 7 should be deemed surplus to requirements at the club.
For a start, he makes a perfect substitute, as he has the ability to influence games whatever the score. He can inject momentum when behind and can also boost the midfield if the side are looking to hold onto a score.
Further down the line, if Chelsea revert back to the 4-3-3 which suits them, there are few better adapted to playing the right of the middle three where he's excelled previously.
However, at present, Chelsea would have more structure on solidity with a Luiz-Lampard-Mikel combination, and for that reason, Ramires should make way to allow Chelsea to become a stronger team between now and the end of the season.
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