With the referee all but ready to blow his whistle for half time in the Nou Camp last season, Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League destiny changed in an instant.
Trailing 2-0 to Barcelona, the Blues were down to 10 men following John Terry’s earlier dismissal and going out of the competition. But up popped Ramires— against all the odds—with a delightful lob of Victor Valdes to put his team back in control of the tie.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man—it was and is the Brazilian’s finest moment in a Chelsea shirt. But while we all know where it would eventually lead for Chelsea, it hasn’t quite been the same for Ramires.
That night in Barcelona was his coming-of-age moment in a Chelsea shirt—the moment he lived up to his billing. With his team on the brink, Ramires had dragged them back into a game that would see the Blues make history in reaching their second Champions League final, eventually winning it.
Since then, however, the 25-year-old’s form has been somewhat patchy, with managerial changes and a new system the main cause.
Let’s be frank—Ramires is still a fine player. There’s no question of that, but as this Chelsea team begins to adapt and discover its true identity, he himself is going through a similar transition this term.
Under Carlo Ancelotti—the man who brought him to Stamford Bridge from Benfica for £20 million in 2010—Chelsea were playing a 4-3-2-1 formation, with three midfielders rather more withdrawn than the attacking trio we have seen from the Blues this year.
It would often mean Ramires lining up alongside Frank Lampard and John Mikel Obi or Michael Essien, giving him licence to get forward. With more bodies beside him, Ramires’ defensive frailties were not overly exploited, either.
The system suited his style and while he excelled playing a little further forward under Andre Villas-Boas, and subsequently Roberto Di Matteo, this season Ramires has suffered.
With Oscar and Eden Hazard brought in over the summer, Chelsea have better and more skilful players in that advanced position behind the striker. It’s meant he has slotted back into the deeper midfield position where Ancelotti first played him, but with just one teammate for protection, he has been found out at times.
Indeed, during his debut season, he suffered the same fate many overseas players do as he adjusted to the Premier League’s frantic pace.
Against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in September 2010—shortly after his arrival—he was caught dallying in possession by Carlos Tevez, with the City man making him pay the ultimate price by dispossessing Ramires and scoring. Chelsea lost the game 1-0.
It hasn’t been as catastrophic this term, but similar moments have crept back into the Brazilian’s game. It was proving a worrying trend, but of late he has shown hints of returning to the form of last season.
His performance against Manchester United in the recent 2-2 draw in the FA Cup, for instance, demonstrated the Ramires of old. The introduction of Mikel shored things up defensively in midfield and the Brazilian was a major reason for Chelsea’s come back from 2-0 down, scoring their second.
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It was promising and perhaps significantly for Chelsea supporters was a performance that mirrored the dynamic of this Blues team.
On the back of lifting the Champions League, the club has endured a disappointing campaign. It’s taken time, and much like Ramires, the changes that were made last summer with a view to the future, are beginning to pay dividends.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, but things at Stamford Bridge look to be on track for next season, as they do for their Brazilian midfielder.