Not since the days of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba have Chelsea had players who just know how to win games.
Thomas Tuchel’s side are slowly but surely figuring out how to stay competitive in big games, but they’re about to come up against a man who knows how to win by any means possible better than anybody else on the face of this earth – Sergio Ramos.
The Spaniard has been sat on the sidelines for most of this season, picking up injury after illness after injury after COVID after whatever. He’s been so unreliable this year that he’s had plenty of Real fans urging the club not to renew his contract, which speaks volumes of just how tired they are.
A nasty combination of a muscle injury and COVID-19 has kept Ramos out since the last international break in early April, but he’s set to return for his side’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea, and he will be possessed by the idea of proving a point.
Ramos doesn’t usually need any extra motivation for these games. The 35-year-old has mastered the art of turning up when it matters most, doing whatever it takes to control a game and snatch a victory. Like the late Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter, Ramos steps up.
He’ll throw his body on the line at the back, pop up with a header in attack and mix in a splash of the dark arts when necessary to throw opponents off their game. Ramos is the kind of player that has eaten Chelsea alive in the past and will do his best to do so on Wednesday.
The experience he brings could be an enormous problem for Chelsea’s struggling attack. Timo Werner and Kai Havertz are short on confidence, Mason Mount is still young and Christian Pulisic is still trying to figure himself out. None of them will have come up against a beast quite like Ramos before.
Managing his overwhelming impact from the back will be a real test for Tuchel. To this point, the boss has relied on midfielders N’Golo Kante and Jorginho to stifle opposition leaders in the heart of the pitch, but Ramos is a different animal in a different position.
It’ll require something new from Chelsea, who deserve credit for their subduing of Manchester City in the FA Cup and even Real in the first leg. The Blues are obviously figuring out the kind of performances you need to bring when the stakes are high, but as the 5-2 loss to West Brom showed us, there’s still a penchant for a meltdown.
Chelsea will be hoping that Ramos isn’t himself for this one, and there’s a good chance he won’t be. He’s played just four times in 2021, boasting more medical ailments that appearances this calendar year, and from a physical point of view, he’d probably prefer a return in calmer circumstances.
Having said that, as a competitive psychopath, Ramos probably wouldn’t swap this chance to prove himself for the world.
Chelsea will hope to counteract Ramos with their own seasoned veteran, Thiago Silva. The Brazilian has been around the world and played on some of the biggest stages, but despite his eight league titles, even he is yet to figure out the magic formula in this sort of match.
How they deal will Ramos and his unbeatable aura will teach Chelsea a lot about themselves. If you want to be serial winners, you’ve got to beat a serial winner, and the Blues are coming for the king early.