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Jack: Brilliant Chelsea inspired by the quiet Brazilian

Kristian Jack
2/3/2014 6:37:19 PM
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When the teams were announced, the pre-match chatter was all about the Brazilians.

No Oscar for Chelsea. Left on the bench. Willian to play his role centrally.

No Fernandinho for Manchester City. Out injured.

David Luiz back for Chelsea. In central midfield.

And then there was the other Samba Boy. Mr Reliable, Ramires, an automatic name in the starting XI but whose position and role was far from automatic.

Less than two hours after kick-off, Chelsea had done it. They had become the first team in 62 attempts to stop Manchester City scoring at home in the Premier League.

However, this was no dour 0-0, like they ‘accomplished' at Manchester United and Arsenal this season.

Yes, another clean sheet at a Premier League giant had been secured but this time they'd won; Branislav Ivanovic scoring the game's only goal in the 32nd minute.

It was fitting that the game was decided by a goal on Chelsea's right side.

Fitting also that had come from a counter-attack. A wonderfully stretched game, particularly in the first half, saw both teams crave and find space and when Ivanovic powered home the goal, just 34 seconds earlier, Jesus Navas was dancing in the other penalty area trying to ignite another City chance.

In between, arguably the game's best player, Eden Hazard had glided from one flank to the other to pin City deep; Ramires had sprinted from deep to have a shot blocked; the exact block that rebounded out to the Serbian defender to blast home.

Five minutes earlier, the Chelsea counter-attackers had had an even better chance, once again starting deep in their own end, where Ramires faced Navas one-on-one in the box. Seconds later, Alvaro Negredo gave the ball away and Willian started a four-on-one attack that finished with Ramires (once again) sticking his jetpack on and sprinting into the box to hit a shot wonderfully saved by Joe Hart.

Willian had made the wrong decision, an all too familiar story for the Chelsea counter-attackers, and instead should have played in Samuel Eto'o, but, much like at Arsenal in December, the wrong decision was made at a key time and they let their opponents off the hook.

Just think what this team could achieve when they do make the right decisions and do have a legitimate force as a striker who they won't think twice about before passing?

It was a night of combinations for Chelsea. Nemanja Matic making his first league start since his move from Benfica, was outstanding alongside David Luiz as the pivots in midfield. Gary Cahill and John Terry made England fans wonder if the Chelsea skipper just might come out of international retirement for a trip to Brazil.

Willian and Hazard were electrifying on the ball and much improved without it. It was the kind of night that elevated the Belgian to another level.

Earlier this season, Jose Mourinho said it best of Hazard: “The quality we know, his talent we all know, but his ambition, the way he looks at a match, sometimes it is a little up and down, sometimes he waits for the game to give him conditions to succeed.”

On a rainy night in Manchester, Hazard waited for nothing. It was his night to shine.

Many have been too quick to elevate him to world class status but consistent performances in this manner will take him there soon enough.

A football field containing other geniuses such as David Silva and Yaya Toure, became the garden of Eden when the world was watching.

And that is why Chelsea's victory was worth much more than three points. It is easy to forget Hazard is only 23 and has played very few big games in his career.

This is a team that is much different to the one that won the Champions League in 2012 and, even, the Europa League last May. It is a team that Mourinho is building to become winners but to do that they must learn how to win together.  This is the biggest win their attacking unit has accomplished.  Only Luiz, Gary Cahill and Petr Cech beat Bayern Munich to be crowned European champions while that trio were joined by Cesar Azpilicueta and Ramires in the win over Benfica in Amsterdam.

That night Ramires played on the right side of midfield, just as he did on Monday against City.

So often used in central midfield, the 26-year-old's versatility was once again leaned on by his manager and he rewarded him with a performance at the highest level.

Putting the Brazilian on the right didn't completely stop the enormous threat City pose with overlaps down the flanks but it certainly prevented them from trying it often.

City's 4-4-2 is more a 4-2-2-2 with Silva and Navas playing a little more central, allowing full backs to go beyond them. It has been a shape that has destroyed teams this season. Not Chelsea.

The positioning of Ramires meant Ivanovic, more than comfortable as a centre back, often came narrower because he had the Brazilian to play right back without the ball.

In attack, the pair could combine well also. Ivanovic rarely gets forward under Mourinho but with Ramires alongside him, he was able to do so, which paid off on the goal.

Higher up the pitch, Ramires also slotted in central positions to make up a three in midfield and help prevent City playing through the middle while causing transitions, he often got on the end of.

It was the kind of performance few will talk of. The stats show little of what he did, Hazard will rightly get the attention and Mourinho will dominate the headlines but without the football intelligence and incredible engine that Ramires provided, Chelsea could just have been another team carved open by a ruthless Manchester City.

“We have six players for these positions. The three players behind the striker give me chances, as a manager, to change from match-to-match, depending on the opponent, the game plan. It is based on these three players how we create our football,” said Mourinho back in August.

Back then it was about picking between Oscar, Juan Mata, Hazard, Willian, Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle.

Ramires once again was not on anyone's radar for those positions.

For a player who is so typically non-Brazilian the low profile suits him but once again in another big game it was just too difficult to let him go unnoticed. 




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