Football Features

How big is Sergio Ramos to Real Madrid’s UCL hopes?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:30, 4 May 2021

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos is set to return for their Champions League semi-final second-leg against Chelsea.

The first-leg ended 1-1 in Madrid, giving the Blues an advantage via the away goal. However Ramos didn’t play that game. In fact, he’s played just twice since the middle of January, with an hour played against each of Elche in La Liga and Atalanta in the Champions League.

On the returning Ramos, Thomas Tuchel said: “It’s another challenge because he is the leader of their group and he is the guy to give a lot of solutions to any questions that we will hopefully ask them.”

There can be no doubt that Ramos is indeed the leader of Real Madrid, and his return is doubly important given that Raphael Varane will miss the tie with an adductor injury. This will thrust the skipper right back into the heat of the action, which he would likely prefer given his combative nature. And Zinedine Zidane will surely delight in.

At 35 years old he has certainly diminished as the apex athlete he once was, but his presence as a leader is as strong as ever. Tuchel is right to fear him because Ramos makes Real a better defensive unit just by being on the field. It’s not a coincidence that Real’s recent Champions League humiliations in the knockout rounds have occurred with the skipper on the sidelines.

In 2018/19 Los Blancos lost three games in their Champions League season and they were the only three games Ramos didn’t play in. He most famously took a yellow card “on purpose” to miss the second-leg in the round-of-16 against Ajax after Los Blancos triumphed 1-2 in Amsterdam, only for the Dutch side to wipe the Spaniards 1-4 at the Santiago Bernabeu and eliminate them from Europe.

Then in 2019/20, he missed two out of Madrid’s three defeats, and in his absence Varane turned into a jittering wreck against Manchester City and almost single-handedly gave the game away.

Finally, this season, the pattern continues. Real Madrid’s only two defeats in the Champions League (both against Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stages) came without the Spaniard on the field.

Sure, Los Blancos have managed to win some big games without Ramos this season too, but the fact that he has missed seven of Real Madrid’s last eight defeats in Europe speaks of his importance. He is a warrior who inspires Los Blancos to their fighting best.

Fortunately for Chelsea, Tuchel has a possible solution: “If we play with no striker at all and Ramos has nothing to fight then that can also be a solution,” he said, hoping that depriving the warrior of a battle could be the key to unsettling him. The German coach concluded: “I have not made my mind up yet.”

What will happen when these two titans meet? Will Ramos’ dominance help Los Blancos over the line, or will Tuchel find a way to defeat The Ultimate Warrior? If Ramos is to return with a bang then you can get odds of 12/5 with Sky Bet for Real Madrid to beat Chelsea on Wednesday night, or 9/2 for them to win to nil.

Alternatively, if you back Tuchel to find a way past Ramos and reach his second consecutive Champions League final, then you can get odds of Chelsea winning on the night at 6/5, or 4/7 to qualify and make the showpiece in Istanbul.