THERE are often casualties to a campaign and Chelsea midfielder Ramires and has now suggested that Andre Villas-Boas’s brutal departure from the club had led to a release of pressure which allowed the players to find "new confidence".
xplaining Chelsea's improvement in form since Villas-Boas was sacked and replaced by interim head coach Roberto Di Matteo, Ramires said: “We began to realise we are a great team, with great players, and have built from our first victory — in Roberto’s first game — and gone from strength to strength.”
Those words will have pained Villas-Boas, who has been vilified for his approach, but they will have pained Ramires also.
The Brazilian was close to the former manager and deeply upset by his sacking and had said in a separate interview with the Portuguese newspaper O Jogo earlier on Tuesday that he was “very happy” under Villas-Boas because “I grew as a player”.
Ramires added: “I was not expecting him to leave.”
The player’s future has, despite the signing of a new contract, been cast in some doubt by Villas-Boas going.
Ramires, David Luiz, Raul Meireles and Juan Mata — the core of Chelsea’s future — were among the Villas-Boas loyalists.
Ramires was speaking at a press conference ahead of Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg against his former club, Benfica, whom he left in the summer of 2010 for £18?million.
He conceded that the change of management had had a beneficial effect on the squad as a whole, acting as a release, even if that can sometimes be inadvertent, especially with a temporary replacement in charge.
“It’s difficult, difficult,” the 25 year-old said when asked why Chelsea’s results had improved.
“Realistically, it’s tough to say and hard to explain.
"We went through a tough period, obviously, and have taken strength from this change in the coach, found new confidence after the change, feeling more respect in ourselves.
"Roberto has instilled great confidence in us.”
Eight matches in charge and six victories — including the famous comeback against Napoli in the previous round and the away win in Portugal — and Di Matteo, Villas-Boas’s former assistant, has enhanced his credentials even if he remains a distinct outsider to take the manager’s job on a full-time basis.
He remains coy when answering questions on the topic.
“I’m very happy to be the temporary interim coach until the end of the season and I want to win as many games as I can until then,” Di Matteo said.
“It’s a fantastic club, but I need to win games. It’s a results business and that’s all that matters.”
Di Matteo did not want to dwell on what he has changed either, although Ramires said that “Roberto has brought in some new ideas”.
However, Di Matteo suggested that his appointment and his desire to communicate with the players had been beneficial.
“I think stability helps every player and every club,” he said.
“But, you know, the players know that they have to perform and they have a responsibility towards themselves and the club.
"You just have to try to get the best out of them. That’s the way it is.”
Di Matteo has a very clear remit. Continuing in this Champions League campaign has been an unexpected bonus and it would be a major shock should Chelsea not safely negotiate this tie, with their 1-0 advantage, and earn a place in the semi-finals.
Di Matteo also has to be mindful of the need to finish in the top four of the Premier League and that is becoming a tricky proposition.
The two matches he has not won were both in that competition.
But the visit of Benfica is about the Champions League and overcoming a side who failed to threaten in the first leg but who have scored in each of their European matches away from home this season.
They have a potent attack, but are struggling in defence with just one fit centre-half, in captain Luisao, although they did end Braga’s 13-match winning run at the weekend through Bruno Cesar’s late goal.
Should Chelsea progress they also face a horrendous fixture pile-up with 11 games in just 40 days.
The squad are fit, Di Matteo said, although there are concerns, and he conceded that the quick succession of matches “might become an issue at some point”.
He added: “We have to keep going and try to stay in these competitions, and try to win something.
"It’s very demanding for the players, but we’re in a good place.”
The sequence of games will also allow Di Matteo to do something that some players appeared to fight against under Villas-Boas — rotate the squad.
“The selection will again reflect the players in best form and shape to play against a strong Benfica team,” Di Matteo said.
He warned against complacency even though, only once previously, has a team lost a tie having won the away leg in this competition.
Chelsea have also conceded the fewest number of goals at home of any club in the Champions League, just one.
“This tie is far from over,” Di Matteo said. “It is a dangerous result. This is half-time and we’re leading 1-0.
"But a 1-0 lead is basically nothing. Our players are aware of this, and we’ll have to go into this game with the same attitude as against Napoli.
"Nothing has been done yet. We’re aware of that.”