Frank Lampard's injury gave Carlo Ancelotti the perfect opportunity to play with his newest toy. #18M summer signing Ramires Santos do Nascimento was slotted into the Chelsea lineup against West Ham alongside Michael Essien and given the same instructions as Chelsea's injured vice-captain: Get forward and cause the defence problems.
Ramires doesn't play in the style we're used to from Lampard, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of being a cerebral passer/finisher, the Brazilian prefers to charge forward while keeping possession - on more than one occasion this did indeed cause the home side's defence some confusion, but it also led to him losing the ball in awkward positions at times. Ramires was much more active than Frank on defence, and played some of his passes from far deeper than we're used to seeing from our left-centre midfielder. The chart after the jump compares Ramires's passing today against Lampard's in the 6-0 win at Wigan:
Figure 1: Ramires passes 9/11/2010 vs. Frank Lampard passes 8/21/2010. Courtesy Guardian Chalkboards.
The attacking passes are very similar, but Ramires drops much deeper than Lampard - he's a true box to box player. Meanwhile, he doesn't get into anything like the shooting positions that Lampard does: Ramires was in the opposing penalty box infrequently and his two shots were from long-range positions rather than the close-in shots Lampard likes to take. However, it's hard to tell how much of this was the Chelsea attack being too disjointed to open up opportunities inside the area for the midfielders to exploit.
Defensively, Ramires did his job. The chalkboards show four interceptions and three tackles, which compares favourably to Jon Obi Mikel's numbers as a holding midfielder. However, Ramires committed a lot of fouls, giving up four free kicks for foul play and one for a handball at the edge of the are. This will come as no surprise to those who watched him play in Brazil's exhibition match against the United States - he was fouling players left and right there too. Clearly he views fouling as a reasonable tactic for slowing attacks down, which I don't have any problem with at all, but I do worry that he might have disciplinary problems like Mikel did when he entered the league.
It was interesting how solid the Ramires/Essien/Mikel block looked. Chelsea featured three midfielders who could each feasibly play the holding role in a first team game, and it showed in the way the centre of the pitch was shut down. Avram Grant dealt with this by pulling his diamond apart and adding some width at half-time, and West Ham found attacking down the flank far easier than going through the middle. All in all, I guess we learned that Ramires is no Frank Lampard. We shouldn't expect the same fluid passes or late, dangerous runs into the penalty area, but we can expect a player with significantly more defensive awareness and ability.
It was a pretty good debut, in other words. There's obviously a little rust and he needs to spend a little more time adapting to the team and the league, but Ramires has plenty of ability and he did his job in shutting down the Hammers after Chelsea grabbed the early lead.
What did everyone else think of Ramires today?