Ramires was one of Chelsea's star performers last season but, with an influx of talent at Stamford Bridge, Ben Lyttleton wonders what role the Brazilian will play next season...
Chelsea are 17.016/1 to retain their Champions League crown and 1.635/8 to finish in the top three of the Premier League.
Chelsea have had the busiest, and most expensive, summer of all Premier League clubs so far. The Champions League winners had bought Marko Marin and Eden Hazard before clinching the signing of Brazil international Oscar this week, taking their spending to over £60m for the three players expected to provide the ammunition for Fernando Torres next season.
Not that everyone is impressed: Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge last week criticised the club for its big spending: "Man City lost over €200m [in its last accounts], Chelsea over €80m. I think some clubs still don't know what FFP is."
While it may appear that owner Roman Abramovich is funding a side that will have lots of attacking options, there is still a lop-sided element to Chelsea's squad. The defence still lacks a natural right-back (Branislav Ivanovic is actually a centre-back) and with John Terry's injury problems mounting last season, little cover beyond the Gary Cahill/David Luiz partnership in the middle. It still seems astonishing that Petr Cech's understudy, Ross Turnbull, is so far behind the Czech goalkeeper in terms of technique and ability.
Perhaps the biggest question that Chelsea's recruitment brings up is what it means for one of their best performers of last season: Ramires. The Brazilian played as a defensive midfielder under Andre Villas-Boas, but with license to get forward, while under Roberto di Matteo, he moved to one of the wide positions in a 4-3-3 system. With this season's Chelsea looking like it will play a 4-2-3-1, with Hazard behind a centre-forward and two of Marin, Oscar, Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge on either side, it's hard to see Ramires fitting in apart from as one of the holding duo.
Ramires grew up in a poor district of Sao Paulo called Boa Sorte, meaning Good Luck, but there was not much fortune in his life early on. He shared a cramped apartment, which had only one bedroom, with his mother, grandmother, and two brothers and when he wanted to play football, had to share a pitch with a local herd of cows. As a teenager, he helped his uncles work as bricklayers, even though he didn't enjoy the hard labour. "I remember working with the hot sun in my face, carrying stones, sand and bricks," he once said. But the family needed money and Ramires was providing.
That same work ethic was decisive to Chelsea last season: in the Champions League semi-final first leg win over Barcelona, it was his run and cross that set up Didier Drogba for the game's only goal. And in the space of five minutes in the second leg, Ramires went from villain to hero after his complaints following John Terry's senseless dismissal led to a yellow card that ruled him out of the final. But minutes later, Ramires ran onto Frank Lampard's clever pass and, checking his stride but not slowing down, he chipped a glorious shot over Victor Valdes and into the Barcelona net. It was the goal that killed the tie.
Last season, Ramires was Chelsea's most frequent tackler and their most frequent dribbler. He says he's happy to play anywhere - he even ended up at right-back against Barcelona after Terry's dismissal - but Ramires at his best would be a huge bonus for Chelsea. He can develop into one of those rare players like Yaya Toure, someone who can occupy three positions at once - a holding player, an attacking player, and someone with the pace to be a counter-attacking player as well.
Chelsea are 17.016/1 to retain their Champions League crown and 1.635/8 to finish in the top three of the Premier League. That would represent a significant improvement on last season's league showing but for all Chelsea's new faces - all of whom are exciting talents - perhaps the biggest challenge facing Di Matteo is how, or more specifically where, to get the best out of Ramires.