Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior enjoyed a fine debut season for Chelsea. After a fitful start to his Chelsea career, owing much to preseason preparations being dashed by his inclusion in last summer’s Olympic Games, Oscar was memorably handed his first start against Juventus in the Champions League. He announced his arrival with two goals, the second a wonder strike that was crowned goal of the season, and has been instantly established as a fans’ favourite ever since. Since his European debut the elegant Brazilian has forged a formidable understanding with fellow amigos Mata and Hazard, netting four goals and five assists in thirty four appearances – a promising return for such a young player new to European football. More than the stats Oscar produced some outstanding moments of magic, his clever touches and vision formed an integral part of Chelsea’s improved attacking verve. Oscar’s default position under Benetiz was in a wide forward role but is that really his best position and will the next Chelsea manager be considering playing him somewhere else?
For the national side Oscar has predominately lined up as the number ten, the free role of the trequartista. It can be argued he is a greater goal threat from the centre, his return of five goals in fifteen appearances for the national team is a ratio a centre forward would not be ashamed of. Oscar’s game is all about close control in tight areas, ability to dribble and see a side rule pass through a congested area – it is ideally suited to the trequartista role. At club level the two times player of the year Juan Mata occupies this position and has perfected the role to great effect. It would be backwards step to consider marginalising Mata’s influence from the centre, here he has become Chelsea’s dominant playmaker. Arguably however Mata’s success has seen Oscar played out of his natural position and he was often tasked to stay wide by Benitez and spread the defence rather than drift infield. The Brazilian did an excellent job in the wide positions and displayed an impressive work rate but a more pacey and direct player would be better suited long term as a wide forward.
Roberto Di Matteo’s solution was to offer a very fluid attacking three, where Mata and Oscar and Hazard exchanged positions throughout the ninety minutes with little tactical discipline. This was positive in the sense that the three linked up attacks superbly but left us dangerously open to simple counters. Benetiz’s formation was more rigid and as such offered more defensive stability, but of the amigos it was perhaps Oscar’s game that was shackled the most. A new manager might just be able to the best of both of these approaches if we go for a high defensive line, the moment a ball is lost the team pressing as one to recover it as quickly as possible. That takes a lot of discipline and training to get right, something that would need to get endlessly drilled during the preseason. It’s also an approach previous managers have struggled to get going.
In a recent interview with Chelsea magazine Eden Hazard suggested that Oscar’s best position might ultimately lie deeper in midfield where he can influence the game more. This is certainly a position we need to see more of Oscar in next season to find out. There were only a few minutes here and there where the young Brazilian was played in a more orthodox central midfield role last season and it was difficult to gauge his influence. However his attacking instincts and eye for a forward pass certainly stood out. Might it be possible for Oscar to start our attacks from a deeper position? I was impressed with how quickly he got up to speed with the physical side of the English game in particular and this will only improve as his game develops. They’ll be times next season when Chelsea are chasing a win, expect a more astute coach to utilise Oscar’s attacking skills from a deeper position and allow another attack to play higher up the pitch. We might just see over the coming seasons Oscar’s influence gravitate to the centre rather than on the periphery of the flanks.