There are a number of talking points you could derive from Manchester United's 2-2 draw against Chelsea in the FA Cup. Most notably, it was a classic game of two halves but you could even sight Eden Hazard's sumptuous strike as the turning point of the game or argue that David de Gea's incredible right-footed save kept United in the competition. However, Ramires' contribution shouldn't go unnoticed especially since he was largely responsible for Chelsea's second half resurgence as he provided his side with the kind of energy in midfield that United simply did not have.
Sir Alex Ferguson would have been fuming after his side squandered a two-goal lead courtesy of their laboured second half performance after dominating the opening period. United looked off the pace in the second half and their manager attributed their poor display to fatigue following their draining midweek encounter with Real Madrid.
With United 2-0 and cruising with just 11 minutes played, the game already seemed beyond the visitors who were utterly dominated at the time. Javier Hernandez broke the deadlock with an intelligent looping header over the advancing Petr Cech after Michael Carrick’s exquisite pass over the top played him in. Wayne Rooney then whipped in a dangerous free-kick which evaded everyone and nestled into the back of the net.
United were cruising in the first half
It’s not often that either of these sides are deemed favourites when they face up against each other but on this occasion, people expected a strong response from United after their Champions League elimination and perhaps that’s where a bit of complacency crept into the home side as well.
The hosts should have killed the game off with Rooney, Hernandez and Tom Cleverley all coming close to grabbing a third goal but they took their foot off the gas at the end of the first half and never really showed up for the second.
Chelsea on the other hand, rallied after the restart to put United on the back foot. They moved up a couple of gears while United dropped down. They closed down their opponents and afforded them precious little time on the ball. When they did attack, they did so in numbers and at devastating pace. And at the heart of it all was their all-action Brazilian central midfielder, Ramires.
Ramires led the fight-back
Chelsea’s number 7 is renowned for his drive and work-rate in midfield which often proves to be the difference in high-profile games. Hazard may draw the plaudits for his eye-catching performance coming off the bench but it was the midfield dynamo who was truly instrumental to his side’s recovery.
Of course, the midfielder was ably assisted by a telling substitution made by his under-fire boss, Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard took off the captain for the day, Frank Lampard and replaced him with John Obi Mikel. Swapping the goal threat of Lampard for a holding midfielder in Mikel was a surprising move given that Chelsea were chasing a two-goal deficit and the Blues’ fans certainly shared that sentiment as the substitution took place amidst chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” from the away support.
What transpired though was far beyond what any of those fans could have comprehended. Chelsea began pressing much higher up the pitch and forced United into surrendering possession. Mikel may not be great in an attacking perspective and his passing is safe at best but he had the legs to close down the opposition and track back quickly as well.
Taking off Lampard was the right call
With the Nigerian beside him, Ramires was able to push forward and make driving runs at the heart of United’s defense. Hazard’s delightful curling effort pulled a goal back for the Blues and with the momentum on their side, they benefited from one of those forward runs from Ramires as he powered his way into United’s penalty box before cutting inside and calmly finishing with his weaker left foot.
It’s not the first time the Brazilian has had an impact on a game of his magnitude. Earlier this season, he was instrumental in Chelsea’s 2-1 home win against Arsenal. Rather more memorably, he was one of the sensational performers on the night when Chelsea drew against Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals to progress on aggregate last season.
Two goals down at the Camp Nou with only ten men and half-time beckoning, Chelsea looked like a side destined to crash out of the competition but a surging run from Ramires and a classy chipped finish at the end of it, levelled the tie on aggregate and gave the Blues a life-line. Even on the right wing, his stamina, pace and discipline were essential to Chelsea’s cause.
While Chelsea had the effervescent Ramires working his socks off for the team, United noticeably lacked a midfielder of similar ilk. It’s an area of the pitch that has been highlighted as a problem for the league leaders for a while now. In the absence of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick has certainly picked up the mantle, assuming the distribution responsibilities and has been solid in defense as well but the team still lacks that energetic midfielder who can drive the team forward or consolidate them in defense.
Sir Alex has shown plenty of interest in the likes of Victor Wanyama of Celtic and Kevin Strootman of PSV Eindhoven and perhaps it’s time he finally recruits a player in that mould to bolster his midfield. Anderson was supposed to fill that roll for United but he has consistently disappointed especially with regard to his fitness. Tom Cleverley partnered Carrick in midfield on Sunday but he was easily over-run and rarely contributed to United’s build-up play.
Cleverley is not the answer
The United youth academy product is a decent enough midfielder but he does seem to be a bit out of his depth in high-intensity matches where time and space is at a premium and physical presence is the order of the day. He didn’t have the pace to track back as quickly as he needed to and regularly gave the ball away.
When the United defense were under siege and desperately needed a formidable midfield to offer them support, bully the opposition and regain control of the game, it simply wasn’t available to them. The difference a single midfielder or the lack of one can make on the game is amazing and in the second half, when the United players looked weary, Ramires’ doggedness and determination drove his team forward, earning them a replay at Stamford Bridge while they may well have even gone on to win the tie.
|Do United need a midfielder like Ramires? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.