Who Is Better: Manchester City's Fernandinho or Chelsea's Ramires?

Phil KeidelContributor IIFebruary 1, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  Fernandinho of Manchester City celebrates scoring their fifth goal past Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on December 14, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

This upcoming match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad really could not get much juicier.

City will begin the day three points ahead of Chelsea and no worse than two points behind Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table when this match kicks off.

Then there's the whole business of what went down with these sides at Stamford Bridge in October.

Joe Hart made a three-point error, taking one from his own side and handing Chelsea two more than they expected.

And Jose Mourinho, in his typically understated and classy style, took the party where it did not need to go.

City and Chelsea have more in common than they might care to admit. Joe Hart's early season struggles aside, both teams have great 'keepers. In Vincent Kompany and John Terry, both sides boast a porch-clearing back who makes opposing strikers think twice before lunging into the box.

More than anything, though, City and Chelsea boast midfielders who can change games without scoring a single goal.

You know the names. Yaya Toure, David Silva and Jesus Navas. Eden Hazard, Oscar, and even still, Frank Lampard.

You know the names because they are creators, goalscorers, and penalty takers. You know the names because they make routine appearances on "Match of the Day" and "Goals on Sunday."

But you probably would not get such eyefuls of those offense generators if not for the tireless work of City's Fernandinho and Chelsea's Ramires.

Fernandinho and Ramires patrol the midfield for their respective clubs like law enforcement cigarette boats in open seas, flitting in and out of putatively open passing lanes and frustrating the opponent's offensive surge every chance they get.

Ramires can make even the best opponents look a step slow.
Ramires can make even the best opponents look a step slow.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

You are not going to find these men on the scoresheet too often.

Ramires has only one Premier League goal for Chelsea this season after being good for five goals in each of the past two league campaigns. This is Fernandinho's first Premier League season; he has three league goals for City and has never been a pure scorer.

Choosing between the two of these players almost seems like an exercise in futility. If City offered Fernandinho for Ramires, or Chelsea did the opposite, both clubs would probably seriously consider the deal but politely decline in the end.

Because really, why mess with success?

Mourinho's tactics are adaptable, but it is no secret that the Portuguese likes to shut the middle of the park down against more talented sides (like City, for example). The ball hawking speed and savvy of Ramires makes up for the defensive shortcomings of his midfield colleagues.

Especially Lampard. Sorry about that.

As for City, the reason manager Manuel Pellegrini can constantly pour so many players forward—especially Yaya—is Fernandinho's splendid positioning and his indescribable timing.

Watching Fernandinho can be a bit of a chore, because he makes his complex, significant defensive exertions look easy and basic.

Since there really is no good reason to pick one over the other, I will pick Fernandinho over Ramires—but not for the reason you think.

This is not a City writer picking a City player. Not that I am above that, because I am not.

Rather, I am deferring to my father's advice on what ultimately matters to him as an employer: Irreplaceability.

If Chelsea would (heaven forbid) lose Ramires for a significant length of time, Mourinho would fret but ultimately Chelsea would not suffer greatly. Chelsea play drab, tight-fisted affairs anyway. Mourinho could squeeze enough defense out of a player like Willian to get by.

But if City lost Fernandinho? That would be cause for real concern for Pellegrini.

See, City have something approaching zero capacity to intentionally win 1-0. It happens rarely, and only when the strikers do not strike and the opposition fails to capitalize on City's frailty.

Pellegrini has predicated his entire plan at City on throwing waves of strikers and attacking midfielders at City's opponents, figuring that it is pretty hard to lose the match if you score five, six, or seven times.

Again, though, it is Fernandinho's grit and covering ability that lets everyone else freelance. If Fernandinho goes down, Yaya goes back to the role he had under Roberto Mancini, i.e., a 90-minute, two-way player. At 30 (and at his size), it is doubtful Yaya can do that three times a week any more.

So it is Fernandinho, not because he is better than Ramires.

But because City cannot do without him.