Profiling the SL Benfica striker that's assumed a big role this season
Who is Gonçalo Ramos?
Playing successor to the throne, as things stand, Gonçalo Ramos has moved from support to lead in the wake of Darwin Núñez’s departure from Benfica.
Having struggled for minutes since his promotion from the B team, his former coach Nélson Veríssimo gave him his shot late last season, and he’s hardly looked back since. With 10 direct goal contributions in just under six 90s to kick off this season, is he primed for a move up the ladder to one of the rumoured suitors?
Ramos has been a fairly prolific goalscorer at every level he has played at. He scored eight goals in nine games as Benfica reached the final of the UEFA Youth League in the COVID-impacted 2019/20 season. He even scored twice in that final, although it wasn’t enough to overpower a strong Real Madrid side.
His impact at B team level made a big jump the following season. His seven goals in the first three games of second division immediately bumped him up to the substiutes bench of the first-team squad, and he’s hardly played at B team level since the opening week of that 2020/21 season.
As mentioned above, Ramos has assumed a significant role this season as Benfica try to replace the goals scored by Darwin Núñez. He is the starting striker now, and his goals have helped power Roger Schmidt’s team to the Champions League group stage and a five-game unbeaten run to start the league season.
Gonçalo Ramos' style of play
Last season, Ramos often featured as a second striker with faith placed in him to drop deep. Due to his optimal levels of awareness and willingness to follow instructions, he was able to demonstrate a good understanding for how to rotate positions and ways in which to benefit the ball-holder with his movement, short or long.
Although Ramos is much more of a ball-to-feet-type player, what can be missing from his movement is a lack of urgency. There’s often an intensity required with even subtler movements to be able to pick the locks against deep blocks, but that lacking intent can see him reach the right position only for it to have expired.
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When he is offering short, he aims to be positive in his control of the ball but has small tendencies that need improving. He attempts to open his body up each time, with either foot, but has a bad habit of meeting the ball too early, which does the opposite by closing his body and prevents the ball from running across him fully or allowing him to take it in his stride. This then stifles the angles he has to work with and requires trickier touches into space that then fail to reignite that momentum.
This is the because his dribbling is even more of a weakness. He has a tough time keeping precise enough control of the ball under pressure to stop opponents chipping away at him, and sometimes lacks the confidence and awareness to utilise the space around him, especially when receiving so ball-facing.
What’s more is his lack of burst, with or without the ball. So, in situations where he attempts to carry it, he’s easy to match for pace – none of which is helped by the rigid adjustments he makes to the ball’s path. Heavily favouring his stronger right foot, Ramos is too frequently a culprit of disjointing his own path by taking jarring touches that limit his angles of approach, or in overusing his right foot to the point that he can’t balance himself smoothly on the run.
Gonçalo Ramos has scored 14 goals in 16 caps for Portugal’s U-21 side, scoring one every 63 minutes on average
The lack of accuracy to his touches is also problematic in his otherwise limited passing range. Ramos is typically quite positive in play higher up the pitch – looking to combine quickly and vertically – but so often narrowly misses mark with the instigating passes. Although his zippy layoffs are an asset of his, the number of off-weight passes can be so stifling to the progress and tempo of moves.
This season, with Ramos being the sole centre-forward, though, it’s taken some of those positive elements out of his game. He currently cuts a very isolated figure up top in newly-appointed Roger Schmidt’s 4-2-3-1. And, it’s not much of a surprise to see him become so vapid given the limitations already seen to his attacking movement from deeper positions.
Despite usually knowing, due to the system in place, when to exploit the space in behind from deeper positions, there was, and still is, a lack of alertness and potency to his run-making. Besides a general lack of awareness for these opportunities, what could be key – on a mental level as well as a physical level – is Ramos’ lack of running power, over shorter and longer distances.
It’s therefore not uncommon to see him offer as the sole outlet on the counter before quickly fading away from pushing the space in behind when he realises he still has a big footrace to contend with.
The point of a lack of urgency to his movement on a smaller scale still applies, too. Particularly in reacting to real-time openings, his ball-watching and static movement can see him start to position himself within the channels fractionally too late. Even worse is when a situation becomes unexpectedly crowded, as he’s very slow to adjust his position or path to accommodate others and to exploit different areas instead.
The one type of instance where Ramos is quick off his feet is for crosses. If he’s already positioned close to the last line, he’s someone more than willing to get across to the face early, which is a very good habit. The general result, however, doesn’t quite compensate. Though he is great at nipping across his opponent to meet looser, lower crosses to feet, his general movement to shake off opponents is very passive and manageable, so results in fairly little.
What only serves to worsen the case for Ramos as a striker is the decision-making over shot technique. Whilst he’s capable of comfortably putting shots away when the time and space is afforded to him, he’s so far shown great indecision, and thus inaccuracy, when rushed by opponents in tight spaces.
Defensively, Ramos is a mixed bag. He’s clearly willing to follow instructions and stay fairly consistent, but the intensity at which he tracks players is also very inconsistent, and potentially costly when he lets up. Particularly when it comes to more zonal-based defending – where he’s required to use triggers, to curve his runs, and to use his cover shadow – Ramos is often, there, at fault of failing to impose himself.
He’ll approach a defender with the right run path, having scanned behind, but will then throw it away by approaching with such a narrow body face and lack of energy that makes it so easy to pass the ball around. Those technical flaws, albeit typical of most attackers, hurts him in almost every situation, as he can be easily outpaced or turned against or played around, as he carelessly drifts, ball-facing, from one opponent to the other in front of the defensive block.
As seen in possession, also, his aerial ability shows a lacking physical edge as Ramos can be quite a timid figure off the ground. His lack of height doesn’t help, but neither does the fact he tends to shy away from the shoulder-to-shoulder battles that are so key to gaining the upper-hand in those contests.
Forecasting Gonçalo Ramos' future
The links to the Premier League this summer – in particular, Newcastle (before they signed Alexander Isak) and Wolves – have been persistent. Ramos definitely has the right work ethic as an attacker to fit in as a solid, tactical cog for a team that works both ends of the pitch frequently.
However, the technical level is the biggest concern. Whilst his intensity in movement and its ceiling is still a question mark, and is something that would be in need of drastic improvement, the overall level Ramos provides on the ball leaves a little too much to be desired in several areas.
This certainly makes it difficult to see him ascending to the highest heights of whichever higher league he might inhabit, but coaches lower down the table could view him as being a worthwhile, mouldable squad option to help execute their specific demands.
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Ramos has a very good work ethic, offensively and defensively, executing instructions well. He offers positively to the ball, short and long, with the ability to link play and be an added goal threat.
Ramos’ intensity is very up and down, which limits his ability to execute actions, offensively and defensively. He bears technical rigidities along with goal contributions that seem unlikely to translate well to a much higher level.