By Peter Herman
Do you find yourself watching youtube highlights of brilliant free kicks against Crystal Palace? When watching a match, do you ask yourself “Was that Oscar at the edge of our penalty area making a crucial tackle?” Do you comment to your friends at the pub that Oscar always seems to be available for the ball when we have posession? Then you must also be a member of the Oscar fan club! Come on in and grab a seat, we have pies(well you have to get your own pies from English Pork Pie Company).
Ever since I saw him curl around Pirlo and put it cooly in the upper corner past an outstretched Buffon I knew this lad was going to be special. And he has been my favorite Chelsea player ever since. Oscar has been Jose Mourinho’s preferred player in the number 10 role since re-taking the helm at the beginning of last season. Jose saw enough in the young Brazillian to sell the established number 10 Juan Mata in January to one of our biggest rivals, Manchester United. That move had a lot of Chelsea fans scratching their heads, but knew what Mourinho expects from all his players. Oscar showed flashes of brilliance but often disappeared in games and suffered a dip in form after Mata had been sold, causing consternation among the die-hard supporters. After a World Cup in which he was primarily overshadowed by his teammate Neymar and a summer transfer window that saw Cesc Fabregas move to SW6 pressure was on Oscar to take another step in his development.
This season Oscar has been playing on another level. His work rate is astonishing. His drive to win is obvious and his ability to do whatever the team and manager ask of him is quite evident. He has grown into a confidence within the squad and has obviously become very close with some of the other players. The friendship between Oscar and Eden Hazard is very evident from their body language and interaction on the pitch and they seem to have the confidence that the other is going to do what is needed in every situation. In the graph below you can see how Oscar compares to other notable number 10’s in the EPL. You can see the defensive work rate is much higher than his contemporaries.
To give an example of the impact he brings to the squad and his ability to stamp his influence on the game I want to take a look at Oscar’s performance in the Crystal Palace match. Other than scoring a brilliant free kick and setting up Fabregas for the winning goal he stamped his authority on the midfield and was, in my opinion, the best player on the pitch. Let’s start by looking at the free kick. Is it too early to say that our new number 8 looked like our former number 8? Oscar perfectly bent the ball over the wall and past the outstretched arm of Julian Speroni to put the Blues up 1-0. Just after the goal Azpilicueta was sent off for a rash tackle and ensuing Filipe Luis for Willian substitution changed the style and tempo of play.
After half time the squad came out looking to put the game away. A beautiful bit of one touch passing between Hazard, Oscar and Fabregas saw the young Brazillian play square to Cesc putting him through to slot past Speroni to give Chelsea a 2-0 lead. Hazard, Oscar and Fabregas obviously enjoy playing together and it can be evidenced in the one touch passing displays they put on making Premier League defenses look pedestrian and making pundits salivate. With the game in little doubt at this point Oscar seemed to be everywhere. Tracking back between the center halfs to collect passes and distribute forward. He was all over the pitch making tackles and sometimes committing silly fouls. Oscar made 5 tackles in the match, the same amount that Matic(3) and Fabregas(2) made combined. Oscar also contributed 2 clearances also more than Matic and Cesc combined. My only criticism of Oscar is that sometimes he is over zealous in his defending and can make the ocassional rash challenge resulting in a bad free kick or booking. But it is not just defending or pressing where Oscar has made a difference this year. So far he has scored 3 goals and assisted 4. He scored a brilliant goal against QPR and set up Diego Costa perfectly against West Brom. He has also been willing to pull the trigger when necessary averaging almost 3 shots per game, only behind Diego Costa on the squad. He is also completing passes at a 85% success rate. He seems to have the properly mentality to press the oppostition as Mourinho dictates and does an excellent job of winning balls back in the offensive third.
Oscar just signed a well deserved five year contract extension to stay with the club until 2019. He obviously has the confidence of his manager and his performance has reached new heights in the second year under Mourinho. If he can continue his form and considering his young age I feel Oscar can fill the very big shoes left by our former number 8 for years to come, but only time will tell.