How Jose Turned Oscar Into Chelsea's Most Important Player
Oscar has never really taken the easy path since joining Chelsea. He arrived at Stamford Bridge taking the departing Didier Drogba’s number 11 shirt. When the Ivorian legend returned, Oscar took Frank Lampard’s recently vacated number 8 shirt. In Chelsea’s recent history those two shirts have been synonymous with success and world class performers. Oscar never seemed phased by the shoes that he was filling.
The Brazilian already boasts one of the greatest goals scored at Stamford Bridge. He announced himself to the world by turning Andrea Pirlo inside out before curling a ferocious effort into the top corner beyond Gigi Buffon. The goal was magical but the opponents he managed to outfox added credence to the quality of the skill and strike.
In the short term he formed a potent attacking trio with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard. They produced some of the most exciting and aesthetically glorious football that Chelsea had seen in years. Nonetheless, with each passing game there was a growing feeling amongst Chelsea fans that Oscar move eventually back into a deeper midfield role. He had the passing, vision, technique and - surprisingly - the tenacity to make the role work. When chasing games, Oscar was often dropped slightly deeper to great effect.
With Mourinho’s return and Juan Mata falling out of favour, Oscar thrived early in the season in a traditional number ten role. People often skirt over his early season form that prompted Mourinho to feel comfortable enough with Mata’s sale. He was arguably Chelsea’s best player up until January: then things fell away somewhat. With Mata’s departure Oscar seemed to lack the same spark that he had played with previously. Reasons seemed to largely fall into two categories: (1) he was far too focused on the World Cup and his performances tailed off; or (2) without Mata he felt he no longer needed to go the extra mile during games.
Mourinho noted this on more than one occasion and it was patently obvious that Oscar had fallen out of favour. The Brazilian had played a phenomenal volume of football by this point in his Chelsea career and it was likely that he was in fact burning out. His game demands so much physically that the accumulated fatigue would eventually catch up with him. Oscar sparkled very briefly in the World Cup, which seems to go against the theory that he was saving himself for Brazil. My genuine feeling is that he was simply shattered.
Was Oscar another bright young starlet who would peak early and then fizzle out into becoming simply another okay player? When you have world class potential merely settling for being a decent player is never quite enough. Thankfully for Chelsea fans Oscar appears to be resurging in both form and energy. His performances of late have prompted plaudits and acclaim. Interestingly enough he is almost creating a unique position for himself as a false ten.
What is so distinctive about how Oscar plays the number ten role is the responsibility he has in all facets of play. Traditionally a number ten is there to facilitate attacks and provide assists for his fellow forwards. Oscar has taken the role one step further. He orchestrates Chelsea’s pressing game, wins the ball frequently high up the pitch, makes key tactical fouls to slow play and diligently defends his penalty area when required. His block from Flamini on Sunday was utterly amazing – this Brazilian playmaker throwing himself in front of the ball like he was John Terry.
In possession he dovetails magnificently with Cesc Fàbregas. The two interchange wonderfully with Oscar coming deeper and Fàbregas pushing forward. Teams are not coping well with this movement of late as they either press and get passed around or leave Fàbregas free high up the pitch. Oscar is also becoming extremely comfortable drifting out wide to allow Hazard or Willian/Schürrle to move inside to occupy his number ten slot. He is skilful enough to beat his full-back and intelligently uses the ball. His display against Arsenal was absolutely complete.
Oscar is slowly becoming a player José Mourinho loves. There may not be a player in world football that can operate to such a high standard performing so many varied roles within a side. Being a defensive lynchpin, attacking fulcrum and tireless worker are not things your average number ten can do. There will always be people who bemoan his lack of goals or assists, but it appears that is not the role Mourinho is asking him to play. Considering just how well Chelsea are playing, perhaps Mourinho knows best?
Chelsea has had Juan Mata operate as a classic number ten previously and despite unbelievably good performances from him Chelsea finished 6th and 3rd (for various reasons). That side was built around using a traditional playmaker to the detriment of the side. Oscar should be scoring more and he can do more to directly provide goals for teammates. Nevertheless, he is always involved in attacking moves and his influence leading up to shots on target is often prominent.
The team are finding their feet at the moment. Over the last few games all of Chelsea’s key players have become accustomed to what is being asked of them and three clean sheets with six goals scored is fine reading. Oscar has been a huge part of this stabilising period and the way his teammates rushed to applaud him off the pitch against Arsenal spoke volumes as to his performance. He is the ultimate team player, sacrificing elements of his natural attacking game to complete the team. His flicks and tricks are measured now and he is far more effective because of this new found discipline.
For Chelsea fans it may take time to move on from Mata’s wonderful goals/assists record. The expectation is still on a number ten to score or to create. Nevertheless, in this Mourinho system Oscar’s role goes beyond that of a playmaker. He is there to provide a passing option, to recycle the ball, create overload opportunities and make space for his teammates. More than this, he is a defensive animal who alleviates pressure by his desire to win back possession. He is a different beast all together this season. The reception he got leaving the pitch against Arsenal suggests Chelsea fans are starting to notice his importance.