The silky playmaker who could save, or sink, his side's season
After Gaston Ramirez was linked to some of EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs elite clubs over the summer, it was something of a surprise to see the Uruguayan sign for Nigel AdkinsÃ¢ÂÂ Southampton side, for a record ÃÂ£12m.
Ramirez admitted the financial incentives played a huge part in his move, but it was nevertheless an odd, sideways move from Bologna in Serie A Ã¢ÂÂ and SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs willingness to splash the cash on an unproven, enigmatic playmaker was a bold decision.
Ã¢ÂÂHe's a smashing little man and a quality footballer,Ã¢ÂÂ said Adkins earlier this week. Ã¢ÂÂHe doesn't know the language but he knows football Ã¢ÂÂ Gaston's given us a boost.Ã¢ÂÂ His 2012/13 so far has been somewhat stereotypical for a talented South American joining the Premier League: flashes of brilliance mixed with disappointing performances away from home, and problems with fitness Ã¢ÂÂ heÃ¢ÂÂs been restricted to just three starts after missing OctoberÃ¢ÂÂs fixtures with a Ã¢ÂÂdead legÃ¢ÂÂ, surely the ultimate Carlos Kickaball injury.
RamirezÃ¢ÂÂs full debut came at home to Aston Villa, a perfect match for him to showcase his technical quality, as Villa sat deep and Southampton dominated possession. Ramirez was fielded as a central attacking midfielder, and was heavily involved.
No one completed more passes into the final third, only Nathaniel Clyne completed more passes overall, and Ramirez created five chances, one of which was converted by Clyne for SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs second goal. Demonstrating an ability to dribble past opponents in tight central positions, Ramirez was superb Ã¢ÂÂ and helped the Saints to their first win of the campaign.
His next match, away at Everton, was a more difficult experience. He opened the scoring with a close-range header, but David MoyesÃ¢ÂÂ side quickly fought back to lead 3-1 at the break. Everton then shut down the game Ã¢ÂÂ playing compact and narrow, making it difficult for Ramirez to find spaces between the lines to receive passes, and frequently intercepting his attempted through-balls.
Although Ramirez didnÃ¢ÂÂt misplace any backwards or square passes, his forward passes often conceded possession. He created just one chance, and was more of a threat with his long-range curled shots from an inside-right position, after cutting onto his favoured left foot.
On his return from injury in Monday nightÃ¢ÂÂs defeat at West Brom, Ramirez was pushed out to the right of midfield. From there, he always attempted to check inside onto his left foot, but didnÃ¢ÂÂt have a significant impact upon the game. His passes were rarely penetrative and all four of his attempted dribbles were unsuccessful; it was no surprise when Adkins removed him with 15 minutes left.
Adkins might consider omitting the Uruguayan for tricky away matches in future Ã¢ÂÂ Southampton have a dreadful defensive record, primarily because of the lack of protection the defence receives from ahead. There are many other offenders, but defensive qualities are certainly not RamirezÃ¢ÂÂs speciality.
Ramirez is still new to the league, of course, and with more Premier League experience heÃ¢ÂÂll become a more consistent, reliable player. For now, he must concentrate on performing well in home matches against other bottom-half clubs. They're the matches Southampton need to win Ã¢ÂÂ and tomorrowÃ¢ÂÂs game against Swansea is a fine example.
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