Chelsea have almost unwittingly stumbled on a winning formation centred on Brazilian midfielder Ramires that could galvanise their fortunes in the second half of the season.
Daniel Sturridge, 22, is the club’s top Premier League scorer this season with nine goals, winning rave reviews and earning his England debut as a second-half substitute in the 1-0 victory over Sweden in a friendly at Wembley in November.
However, the injured striker has been unable to fill his customary position on the right side of Chelsea’s 4-3-3 system for the last two games and manager Andre Villas-Boas has pushed Ramires forward to plug the gap to stunning effect.
The boyish-looking Ramires, who wears braces on his teeth, played 90 minutes in his new role at Wolverhampton Wanderers on January 2 and scored the opening goal as the Londoners triumphed 2-1 in the league.
Then, with Chelsea toiling in the second half of Sunday’s FA Cup third-round tie against second tier Portsmouth, Ramires was again pushed forward from midfield late in the game and suddenly the floodgates opened as he netted twice in a 4-0 victory.
Sturridge is probably the better finisher of the two but the energetic Ramires makes up for that with his lung-bursting, box-to-box surges.
Chelsea have also had a weakness at right back this season but the Brazilian’s willingness to retreat when his team lose possession in order to provide defensive cover for Portuguese Jose Bosingwa is another eye-catching feature of his game.
“I have been working hard on my finishing in training but I have also been working on the defensive side of my game as well,” Ramires told the club’s website (www.chelseafc.com) ahead of Saturday’s league clash at home to Sunderland.
“I have eight goals in all competitions already this season which is a good return but I would like to go on and score 15 or maybe even more, that will be important not just for me but for the team as a whole.”
Chelsea, who won the Premier League and FA Cup double in 2009-10, have struggled for consistency this season.
They are rank outsiders for the league, occupying fourth place and trailing leaders Manchester City by 11 points, but Ramires’s growing influence and the imminent return of the fit-again Michael Essien could be just what Villas-Boas needs.
“All we are playing football for is to win trophies,” said Ramires. “There are high points and there are low points in any season but the overall aim is to always be improving.
“The minimum aim would probably be to win one trophy but we are still in three competitions and we will be trying to win them all.”
Ramires, signed from Benfica in August 2010 for 19.8 million pounds ($30.66 million) by Villas-Boas’s predecessor Carlo Ancelotti, took a while to find his feet at Stamford Bridge.
“The first season was important in terms of adaptation and getting used to things,” said the 24-year-old. “I understand the language more now and the way the team play so it has certainly got easier for me.
“Previously the emphasis was more on defending whereas under Villas-Boas it’s more about attacking.”
Ramires looks as though he will get plenty of opportunities to show his dynamism up front as Chelsea try to climb the Premier League table and restore confidence ahead of next month’s Champions League first knockout round tie with Napoli.