Andre Ramalho is currently enjoying his second stint at FC Red Bull Salzburg. The Brazilian defender had a short stay at Bayer Leverkusen before moving back to the Austrian champions one season later. He enjoyed his best moments in Austria and was perhaps not ready for a move to the Bundesliga at the age of 22.
Having started his youth career at São Paulo, the Brazilian defender worked tirelessly to establish himself at a number of Brazilian clubs before eventually cementing himself at Red Bull Brasil. After impressing for the Red Bull affiliate, the defender made a move to FC Salzburg’s junior team: RB Juniors. A loan move to FC Liefering followed with a view of making the first team in the following season. FC Liefering is FC Red Bull Salzburg’s official feeder club who play in the second division of the Austrian football league. Red Bull GmbH are the primary shareholders of the second division club making the transition between both clubs much simpler.
Andre Ramalho made his league debut on 20 July 2013 against SC Wiener Neustadt. He played the full 90 minutes and on 27 July 2013, he scored his first goal for Red Bull Salzburg against FK Austria Wien in a 5–1 win. He has featured prominently for FC Red Bull Salzburg this season and put in some eye-catching performances but what qualities make him an integral part of Marco Rose’s team?
A Ball Player
Andre Ramalho is an accomplished ball-playing centre-back. Teams across Europe have started to adopt ball playing defenders as a source of an attack. Building out from the back has become an essential component in breaking down teams with different managers utilising their centre-backs differently. Pep Guardiola, Maurizio Sarri, Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann employ ball-playing centre-backs in different manners. Sarri prefers his centre-backs to play the ball into Jorginho or Cesc Fabregas once teams start to press David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger. Guardiola uses Aymeric Laporte and John Stones to play into Fernandinho or Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker.
Marco Rose has engaged in a slightly different philosophy at FC Red Bull Salzburg. If you’ve read my previous features on Salzburg’s style of play and multiple match analysis, Rose prefers to use his centre-back’s to launch pinpoint diagonal passes to the centre-forwards who knock it down for the oncoming attacking midfielder or strike partner. Ramalho is Rose’s primary outlet. In the Austrian Bundesliga, the champions are afforded more possession as teams look to sit back against them. This allows the defenders time on the ball to play into midfield and pick out the right pass.
Andre Ramalho plays the role of the cover defender in the defensive partnership. The Brazilian will usually drop back and allow his centre-back partner or defensive midfielder to deal with the oncoming opposition player in front of him and drop in to deal with the loose ball.
Bayer Leverkusen bought the Brazilian centre-back based on his future potential and ball-playing ability but ultimately, his lacklustre time at the German club was down to his lack of experience. After one season at the German club, he was sent back to the Austrian champions who weren’t ready to wait. I believe he needed that season away to mature into a well-rounded defender and FC Salzburg is starting to reap some of the benefits.
If we compare his statistics from his stint at Bayer Leverkusen and his last season at FC Red Bull Salzburg, you notice an improvement. The increase in passing accuracy (83.5% to 87.8%) and long passes has improved significantly mainly due to the stylistic change of systems. Even his aerial duels and interceptions per game have reduced because he now sees more of the ball. I believe this suits his play style better, being someone who looks for the freedom to play out freely and play threatening long balls.
Steady, Aim, Pass
The UEFA Europa League game against Rosenborg is a prime example of a team playing a low block against FC Salzburg. Notice, Ramalho has an ample amount of time to pick his pass. Not a single Rosenborg player attempted to close him down knowing Salzburg preference of playing through the centre-backs to the strikers either aerially or on the ground. Takumi Minamino knows the drill. He’s already signalling for the ball asking Ramalho to pass in between the defenders. The two Rosenborg defenders are caught ball watching and allow Minamino a free run through as Ramalho releases the ball. Once the two centre-backs realise their mistake, the Japanese striker has scored a wonderful volley. It’s as simple as 1,2,3.
Co-incidentally, the reverse fixture against Rosenborg presents us with another example of his diagonal passing abilities. Rosenborg has employed a low block 4-4-2 formation. They have now anticipated FC Salzburg’s play pattern and are trying to close the narrow gaps in midfield. However, notice the two wing-backs are left unmarked. Andre Ramalho spots them both and decides to play the ball out to Andreas Ulmer. The ball out wide has opened gaps between the defenders for the Salzburg attackers to exploit.
But It Isn’t All Fun and Games
There is no smoke without fire and the Brazilian centre-back has a few weaknesses that have been exposed by teams across Europe. Andre Ramalho struggles with his decision-making causing his one-v-one defending and defensive positioning to suffer. His reading of the game needs improvement. Understanding when to push into an opposing striker and when to drop deep is a key ingredient in the next level of progression. Aggressive and rapid forwards can outrun the centre-back if he is isolated. He needs a defensive midfielder to screen the defence to give him extra support and defend confidently. I’ve found a few examples where Ramalho could have used better decision-making to eliminate mistakes in certain situations.
Being a centre-back entails one primary function – making sure the ball isn’t getting past your goalkeeper. Ball playing, sweeping and providing killer diagonals to your attackers to create goal scoring opportunities are added perks to the position that has developed over time.
At this point Andre Ramalho is in a good position; he is able to cover Jérôme Onguéné. Between them, they should be able to clear the danger but the main concern will be the striker’s vision advantage over the centre-back. Ideally, that should be Ramalho’s player to mark with the Jérôme Onguéné shifting over to occupy the empty space behind them and cover the other Rosenborg striker who is to receive the ball.
Once he receives the ball, you can clearly see the gaps form and the defenders start to drop deep. The striker is in Ramalho’s line of sight making him his responsibility.
As the striker receives the ball, Ramalho and Jérôme Onguéné have gained the advantage by moving ahead of him. At this point, you would think they shepherd the centre-forward back facing his own goal but have instead allowed him to play the ball through their legs. This is poor defending from both players especially given Andre Ramalho had the sight advantage over Onguéné, the lack of communication and decision-making between them was evident and allowed for an easy opportunity from a controllable situation.
You can understand the notion of risk-v-reward but in Andre Ramalho’s case, it requires more thought. When it comes to his speed, he shouldn’t be taking a risk. He is well aware of the space left in behind him which allows for the other Celtic players to capitalise and create a goal scoring opportunity. The moment we see Scott Sinclair with the ball on the touchline, you can expect him to make a trademark winger’s run down the flank skipping past defenders using his blistering pace, but it is the defender’s job to ensure he does not get beaten.
This is where the phrase ‘taking one for the team’ should come into effect. Seeing the ball fly past him and knowing the exorbitant speed Sinclair possesses, Ramalho should ideally be doing everything to put a halt to the attack, yet, he stays on his feet and allows the winger to bypass him and get a cross in.
Andre Ramalho is of similar ilk to David Luiz. Their obsession with long-range diagonal passes with incredible technique and skill is comparable but their concentration is lacking at the best of times. Managers often look to tap into their strengths and maximize it to their full potential. David Luiz is often criticised for his lackadaisical defending and Andre Ramalho suffers from the same fate. The difference between playing at the highest level and one tier below are the minute details that require more attention. Loss of concentration or wrong decisions made in the moment can cost your team a goal, match or championship.
The step up to the German Bundesliga was too much too soon for the Brazilian but with time, if he looks to iron his sloppy mistakes and perform consistently in the Europa League then he can garner another opportunity in the top-flight. Exceptional ball-playing centre-backs are trending at the moment. Can Andre Ramalho reach the potential Bayer Leverkusen saw in him at 22? Under Marco Rose, he has one of the most promising managers in world football today who led them to a Europa League semi-final last year; he can certainly coach the Brazilian and attempt to transform him into a superb ball-playing centre-back.
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