Real Madrid: Why does Sergio Ramos make the team so much better?

Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid look like a completely different team when Sergio Ramos isn’t in the lineup, but why is that the case?

You could make the argument that there isn’t a single player in European football who is more important to their team than Sergio Ramos is to Real Madrid. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo would absolutely be in that discussion, especially in light of how poorly Juve played without Ronaldo available.

But you only have to look at Real’s dubious Champions League record without Ramos, including the recent embarrassing losses to Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk, to see exactly how lost Real look without their captain.

Ramos has a serious case for being the best center back in history. The No. 4 just scored his 100th career goal for Real Madrid in a 3-2 win over Inter Milan, and it is impossible to think of a central defender who is as big of a goal-scoring threat. From finishing second on the team in goals last season to 92:48, Ramos has proven he has the consistency and the clutch factor to be a key scoring threat for Real.

So in the context of his importance to Los Blancos, the goals matter an awful lot. Ramos was automatic from the penalty spot last season, missing zero spot-kicks. How many center backs can do that? Hell, how many players, period, can do that? Ramos’ penalties quite literally won Real Madrid games in 2019-2020, particularly down the stretch of the season with the title in sight.

Real Madrid benefit from Sergio Ramos offensively beyond just the goals

But Ramos’ importance goes beyond goals, which he is capable of scoring from free kicks, corners, penalties, with his head, or with either foot.

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Because Ramos is the man holding the defense together at the back. He reads the game brilliantly and knows all the little tricks to beat forwards. Does he get under the skin of other players? Absolutely, absolutely.

But let me ask you this, isn’t that exactly what you want from a central defender? Don’t you want a tough, no-nonsense center back who isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to win? You don’t want that if you are playing against him, but if he is on your team, you realize just how valuable that mentality is in a central defender.

So far this season, Sergio Ramos leads the team with a 92.6 pass completion percentage. He’s also the leader in progressive passing distance, and it isn’t particularly close.

Ramos has the most passes into the final third, 31 more than second-place Toni Kroos. And only Luka Modric has more total progressive passes. Ramos has the most ball switches. In total, he has the most live-ball passes of any player.

Basically, it all runs through Ramos. Alongside Modric and Kroos, he is the beating heart of his team, not just defensively, but when Real Madrid are in possession. He sets the tone. So when you take out a player who has so many forward passes and so many defensive interventions, you have a huge hole that no other center back can fill. Add in the missing goals, and you can see why Real struggle to replace him when he’s unavailable.

Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos
Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images) /

Sergio Ramos’ true impact on Real Madrid can’t be measured in numbers

Finally, though, the most important quality Ramos brings to the table for Real Madrid cannot be measured in statistics. I love analytics and could never go back to the time when we were lacking in such rich ways to evaluate our game. But even I must admit that there are aspects of football that cannot be measured in numbers.

How can you measure Ramos giving instructions to a teammate? How can you measure him making the right movements off the ball that lead to a poor pass or to another teammate making an interception? How can you measure a well-timed run forward into the box that creates space for a shot from a teammate? And above all else, how can you measure the psychological impact of having a lion-hearted serial winner at the heart of your defense?

Sergio Ramos lifts his teammates in ways that are so profound, we don’t even realize how much his energy and inspiration are missed until he is on the sidelines. Then, after the defeat, we are at a loss for how exactly to analyze the lifeless performance that transpired before us, except that we know it had something to do with the charismatic No. 4’s absence.

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In a sense, it is troubling for any team to have to rely so much on one player. Juventus fans have those same thoughts in the back of their mind whenever Ronaldo bails them out with a brace. But in another sense, all you can do is sit back and marvel at players like Ramos, who seem to transcend the game and their peers.