Oscar's inconsistency for Chelsea hampering his rise to the top
It is difficult to disagree with Jose Mourinho's assertion that his Chelsea side had put on the “perfect game” to beat Swansea so convincingly at the weekend. Everything clicked for them, perhaps even more perfectly than before in what has thus far been a vastly successful season for the Blues. Some doubts surrounding their title credentials surfaced after slip-ups at Newcastle and Tottenham, but they reasserted themselves as favourites in the most efficient, effective and resounding of fashion.
WhoScored again named Diego Costa Man of the Match, but given that that is a feat we have become somewhat accustomed to seeing, it was glossed over with Oscar standing out rather more on this occasion. He did so for all the right reasons – two goals and a fantastic all-round display – but it does speak volumes about this player that a performance of this standard becomes the talking point even though he was outshone by a teammate.
Oscar tends to flit in and out of games and form in a way that the more experienced players at Chelsea do not. Cesc Fàbregas has been consistently brilliant since signing while Costa’s worst dip in form for the club saw him go a whole two Premier League games without a goal. Eden Hazard, meanwhile, constantly looks on the cusp of turning a game in an instant. Chelsea cannot rely on Oscar in quite the same way for goal threat, despite his advanced position.
And yet he undoubtedly has in him the capability to turn games on his own. That goal he scored against Juventus in the Champions League – his first start for the Blues – put his name on the map. It was a goal of exquisite beauty; the way he cushioned the ball away from goal and struck over a stranded and befuddled Gianluigi Buffon on the turn was quite incredible.
It proved, however, to be a rarity; Oscar doesn’t grab games as frequently as that debut suggested he might in future years with the Blues. Two seasons later, whilst being quietly efficacious in a hard-working Chelsea team, the Brazilian has not had quite the impact that initially he had hinted he might.
The Chelsea fans and manager alike undeniably value him, though. He ousted Juan Mata in the number 10 role and is probably the closest player they have to a replacement for Frank Lampard (having inherited his number 8 at the start of this season). 6 goals in 18 appearances so far this season is a decent enough return but is some distance from Lampard’s level.
With 7 assists also to his name, his understated contribution looks a little more impressive; only 5 players have directly contributed to more Premier League goals this season than Oscar (13), with each of them (Sanchez, Costa, Agüero, Fàbregas, Austin) having enjoyed a start to the season vastly more celebrated than Oscar’s. His form – and return in front of goal – has gone relatively unnoticed.
Perhaps there is good reason. Only 2 of the goals he has been involved with have come against teams currently in the top 8 – assists against Tottenham, one of which pounced on Hugo Lloris’ poor clearance and another that was a scuffed shot turned in on the goal-line by Diego Costa.
Left out at Manchester City, withdrawn at half-time at Tottenham and an unused substitute at Anfield this week, Oscar has been omitted from the Chelsea team in important games this season. Could it be that Mourinho recognises the fact that Oscar lacks the cutting edge to win games against the best sides?
Against a Swansea side extraordinarily willing to gift Chelsea chances at every opportunity, Oscar was outstanding. Both of his goals were sweetly struck out of the goalkeeper’s reach, whilst he was heavily involved in play, having 90 touches – as many as midfield metronome Fàbregas and fewer only than Hazard (96). However, his pass completion of 85% was amongst the worst for Chelsea while he created only 1 chance for a teammate.
It was – according to WhoScored ratings (8.91) – his best performance of the season so far. It followed up another fine performance in the 2-0 victory over Newcastle (8.15), but that came after what was by a distance his worst display of the season (6.18 at Tottenham).
Inconsistency is all too prevalent and if he wants to make the step up to become a genuine world-class number 10 he needs to work that out of his game. At the World Cup too, Oscar hinted at his potential to grab the competition, scoring and setting up another in a perfect 10 performance in the curtain raiser against Croatia.
Thereafter, however, he only laid on the fourth in the 4-1 victory over Cameroon and scored the consolation in the catastrophe against Germany. It was a rather underwhelming competition on a personal level as well as for his country.
Of course, for Mourinho’s Chelsea, there is the rather important point that the midfielder does a great deal of defensive work. 2.1 tackles per game is a vast quantity, third only to Remy Cabella (2.3) and Adam Lallana (2.2) of those who play in as advanced a position, while his 1.6 fouls per game show he is not afraid to get stuck in.
His heatmap highlights just how much ground he covers, and that is invaluable to the Portuguese manager. Given that he has dropped Oscar for a few big occasions this season, however, hints that he still considers his work insufficient.
Undoubtedly a wonderfully gifted footballer, Oscar has the potential to provide so much more than he tends to deliver. He may well go on to win the Premier League title this season and deservedly so, but if he wants to make the step up and be widely regarded as amongst the world’s best in his position, he needs to fulfill his stratospheric potential by performing on a more consistent basis.