When Frank Lampard doubled Chelsea’s advantage during the 2-0 win over Hull City on the opening weekend of the season, many expected the Blues to ruthlessly dispatch the Premier League returnees at Stamford Bridge. Yet, in typical José Mourinho fashion, the west London side ‘shut up shop’ and saw out the encounter, much to the displeasure of the neutral.
3 points were secured on Mourinho’s return to the club, but it was a performance that typified the approach of the Portuguese tactician. A rampant 25 minutes saw Chelsea race into a two-goal lead, before soaking up pressure for the next 65 in a way that epitomised his time with Real Madrid. Los Blancos netted 26 goals on the counter-attack during his 3 years in the Spanish capital - the most of every Primera Division team in that timespan - and the efficient displays have become a benchmark for teams under the 50-year-old.
This was the case during his time with Inter Milan, where the Nerazzuri would continuously allow teams to attack them and rather than look to match the opposition blow for blow, instead use this to their advantage. A vital member of the team would be the all-action midfielder to successfully break up play and recycle possession effectively, thus allowing the more creative members of the team to exploit their ability on the attack.
While the formation - a 4-2-3-1 - hasn’t changed between Rafa Benitez’s interim reign and Mourinho’s return, the positional discipline has altered, with Ramires a vital member of the first-team already in the refreshed system. However, under Benitez the Brazilian was utilised differently, with his immense energy levels used to win possession high up the pitch and offer a further attacking threat.
Yet, in his 3 appearances this season, the 26-year-old has often limited his play to the midfield third and rather than charge forward, instead play a shorter pass to aid in the fluidity of the Chelsea offense, with it argued that Kevin De Bruyne, Oscar and Eden Hazard are central to their attack. This has, unsurprsingly, seen Ramires have the most touches (254) in the Premier League this season as he aims to win back possession before shifting the ball to allow the trio to besiege the opposition.
The season may only be 3 games old for Chelsea, but the indication that Ramires’ positional discipline is improving is epitomised perfectly in his heatmap, especially when compared to the previous campaign. The average position of his touches on the ball from last season saw him appear all across the midfield third, whilst also encroaching on the attacking and defensive thirds of the field.
In his 3 games to date, however, Ramires has appeared to remain nearer to the centre circle, and rather than use his stamina to attack the opponents, conserve energy and allow his teammates to flex their creative muscles while he concentrates on breaking up play. This notion is reinforced in that Ramires is currently averaging 4 tackles per game, while only Lucas Leiva (13) has made more tackles this season than the Chelsea midfielder.
The midfielder has executed the most accurate passes (197) with a 90% success to date. This is an improvement on his 85.2% from last term, while the proportion of passes he is playing sideways has increased from 51.7% to 56.2%. That 123 of his 219 attempted passes have gone sideways is a suggestion that Mourinho has not only tasked Ramires with disrupting the attacking rhythm of the opposition, but then also with spreading play to bring full-backs Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic into the game.
It’s an indication that Mourinho is aiming to mould Ramires from a conventional box-to-box midfielder into a holding one, perhaps all the more pertinent when taking into consideration the speculation surrounding the future of John Obi Mikel. His all-action performances would certainly be better suited in the middle of the pitch, especially if he is to play alongside the ageing Lampard.
Exploiting this is evidently a gameplan of Mourinho as he aims to secure Premier League glory upon his return to English football. Ensuring he can bring out the best in Ramires’ physical attributes will go a long way to solidifying the midfield. With the abundance of attacking talent on show at Chelsea - Andre Schürrle and Juan Mata expected to be joined by Willian this week amongst the aforementioned trio - there is little need for Ramires to continuously push forward and Mourinho has seemingly noted this as he aims to shape the player to match his needs.