Pitchside

Why Ramires is Chelsea’s key man tonight

Pitchside

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Chelsea midfielder Ramires may be unable to play any further part in The Blues' pursuit of the Premier League trophy after he accepted an FA violent conduct charge for elbowing Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson, but he has a crucial role to perform if Jose Mourinho's side are to reach their third successive European final with victory over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night.

The Champions League semi-final between the pair is perfectly poised after a dull 0-0 draw at the Vicente Calderon last week and we are likely to be treated to another direct dose of defensive battling from Mourinho in west London, but a win is the order of the day.

The Brazilian midfielder's disciplinary record is a growing concern - he missed the last European night at Stamford Bridge against Paris Saint-Germain due to suspension - but it is the same energetic and at times unsightly approach that could give Chelsea the edge over Diego Simeone's outfit. He is an integral member of the side, and he has completed a full 90 minutes during eight of his nine appearances in the competition this season.

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Ramires: Champions League Appearances This Season

The Blues are expected to field a similar formation to the one they employed in Spain tonight, with a tight-knit midfield three in front of their back four. David Luiz will be the most defensive-minded of the trio while Ramires and possibly Andre Schuerrle - who has emerged as something of a versatility man throughout the season - will have to push forward.

Last week in Madrid, Chelsea offered very little up front and did not break with any kind of aplomb or even push men forward, but with the onus on them at home, Ramires will need to provide the legs in midfield.

Very much a box-to-box man, the 27-year-old possesses a superb engine and will need to carry the ball from defence into attack on a regular basis. Simeone's side are also capable defenders and will set up to protect Thibaut Courtois' goal as they know a single strike could be enough to see them through, along with any score draw.

Chelsea were intent on defending in a compact manner a week ago, which was a means to an end, to stay in the tie before they could play on home turf. However, an attacking thrust will need to be added and Ramires will be the man to provide the link to Chelsea's more capable flair players in Willian and Eden Hazard.

Ramires has created just six chances in the tournament so far, with one assist to his name, but it is the area of the pitch where they have come from that is telling. If the game becomes stretched in the latter stages, with the scores still locked at 0-0, the Brazilian's superior fitness levels will allow him to produce driving runs into the final third better than any player in Mourinho's ranks.

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Ramires: Chances created in the Champions League

However, Chelsea will not go gung-ho and with talented attackers such as Diego Costa and Koke in their ranks, Atleti will be dangerous.

Defender Cesar Azpilicueta, with a total of 24, is the only Chelsea player to have contributed a higher number of tackles in Europe than Ramires this season and the Brazilian will need to keep his shape in the defensive unit.

Fierce in the tackle and with a combative style, it is no surprise that he has amassed three cautions throughout the tournament, but he cannot afford to add to his collection tonight. If Ramires picks up an early booking he will be at huge risk of collecting a second as several Atletico players are not afraid to exaggerate contact.

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Chelsea: Top Champions League tacklers

Discipline will prove to be decisive if Ramires is to be the attacking crux of Mourinho's midfield. The midfielder can often get frustrated when things do not go his way, highlighted by his petulant strike out against Larsson and a dangerous lunge on Aston Villa's Karim El Ahmadi earlier in the season. The loss of a man would be disastrous for Chelsea.

Ramires has attracted interest from Juventus and with Mourinho tipped to have to sell before he can spend in the summer he could be deemed surplus to requirements.

However, if Mourinho puts his trust in the midfielder tonight and Ramires can keep his cool and prove his worth on the biggest stage, just as he did with a delicious chip at the Nou Camp back in 2012, he may prove to be the hero of the piece.

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