Before the start of this campaign there was positivity a-plenty when talk turned to Chelsea. Jose Mourinho’s return and Frank Lampard’s contract extension made for a delighted set of supporters, and the prospect of the two aforementioned club legends working with the heroes in the making like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard did much to heighten anticipation ahead of a brand new season.
Now, we find ourselves three games into the campaign, and whilst normal service has resumed for both Mourinho and Lampard, Mata and Hazard have yet to shine as we know they both can. In fact, it is another player in amongst the stockpile of Chelsea’s number 10’s who is emerging as they key man in Mourinho’s second spell.
That player is Oscar. And when you look at his development throughout the course of last season – his debut campaign in the Premier League – it shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Having operated on either flank and through the middle in his maiden Chelsea campaign, Oscar offered snippets of his unquestionable ability. His performances in Europe, especially in the 2-2 draw against Juventus, were perhaps the first indicators of his prodigious talent.
Good performances against the likes of the Italian giants were accompanied by some where the youngster cut a peripheral figure. But the common consensus around Stamford Bridge was that their Brazilian playmaker represented money well spent. Sure he was inconsistent, but what player isn’t at 20 years of age? Lets not forget, he featured 64 times for Chelsea last season, a massive amount of games for a developing player in an unfamiliar environment. There was always going to be peaks and troughs.
Under the interim manager Rafael Benitez, Oscar operated primarily on the right-hand side towards the tail end of last season. His attacking threat remained, but perhaps most tellingly, he gave an indication of his willingness to track back and help out from a defensive point of view. Not a typical trait of the modern day flair player, it has to be said. He actually averaged 2.5 tackles per game last season, the third highest in the Chelsea squad.
This defensive contribution is something current boss Mourinho demands from all of his players, and you suspect it was Oscar’s performances under Benitez that caught the new manager’s eye. Oscar demonstrated a real understanding of how to balance both attacking flair and stubborn discipline.
Players of this ilk fit the Mourinho mould perfectly, and subsequently Oscar has played at the crux of Chelsea’s three attacking midfield players in their opening games. He has been excellent in them all.
For a 21-year-old, he has shown levels of maturity that far surpass his years. Oscar has a remarkable understanding of the game, for his movement is not only geared towards making space for himself, but for his team mates too. Stylistically, he may not be overly flamboyant, but it is the subtle, understated nature of Oscar’s link-up play that gave Chelsea a fervent attacking purpose in their opening two games.
His positional sense – in both an attacking and defensive sense – is also remarkable for one so young. Focusing on the defensive side, this awareness, coupled with an excellent work-rate means that Oscar can help spoil the opposition’s fluidity from his advanced position .
This was on show in Chelsea’s visit to Manchester United. Oscar was always working to get close to and pester Michael Carrick; a key component in Chelsea disrupting United’s attacking rhythm. Not to mention, in periods of the game where Chelsea became overrun and under pressure, Mourinho would instruct Oscar to drop deeper and help his side maintain possession. Oscar obliged, and flourished doing so.
Oscar may not be as flashy as his teammates Mata or Hazard, and resultantly may not get the same amount of adulation. But at the moment, he is shaping up to be Chelsea’s main man under the new manager.
He is starting to perform a number of crucial tactical roles in Mourinho’s line-up and looks set to play a significant part for the club on all fronts. The Brazilian looks to have learnt plenty from his first campaign in England and an extended run in his favoured position will only see him cement his place at the heart of this Chelsea side.
Statistics courtesy of Whoscored.com.
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