Chelsea FC: Good Results Masks Oscar Downturn
Saturday’s game was produced a mixed bag of feelings when Chelsea laboured to a 1-0 win over Everton at Stamford Bridge. While the win was undoubtedly important to Chelsea’s title challenge, many would admit that the game could have easily gone either way. However, predatory instincts from Chelsea Captain John Terry, ensured that the blues escaped what would be a disastrous result.
For much of the game, Chelsea struggled to keep up with Everton’s dynamic passing. This was particularly evident among the left channel, where Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar were able to run riot around the defence. Arguably, the only bright spark on the field for Chelsea was defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic, who is gradually living up to the bill as the midfield player that Chelsea has been missing for the past last few seasons with his powerful play spiced with calm and technically astute touches.
While Mourinho might credit his side’s resilience in ultimately garnering a much important win, key questions arise over the state of Chelsea’s much hyped midfield force. The sale of Juan Mata was a statement of intention from Mourinho signalling that he had finally decided on his first team midfield of Willian Oscar and Hazard. Hazard in particular, has impressed many this season with his virtuoso performances on the left. However, can the same be said for Willian and Oscar?
A hallmark of Mourinho teams is the expectation that players work for the team and focus diligently on defending/pressing. Many can see that Mourinho’s players have fully subscribed to his ethos, although it should be noted that Hazard has been given more freedom than most players to focus on attack of late (much like Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid when Mourinho was managing the club). Over the course of the season, Willian and Oscar have been lauded for their energy and industry in both defence and attack. Pacey and quick, both have added a great deal to the team’s high pressing counter attacking game, with Willian playing a huge role in many of Chelsea’s counter attacking moves. However, Oscar, so often recognised as the selfless orchestrator, has recently suffered a downturn in form, one that is a huge cause for concern for the manger.
Since his goal from a sumptuous free kick against stoke in January, Oscar has embarked on a drought devoid of goals and assists spanning 6 games. So often a 90 minute player, Oscar has been substituted 4 times in the past 6 games. His recent game against Everton on Saturday marked a 45 minute substitution from an ankle injury, but his performances during the match made his injury withdrawal a bittersweet blessing for Mourinho.
At the start of the game, Oscar quickly went into the books with a reckless tackle. Furthermore, he was sloppy in possession and was hardly able to press Everton’s midfielders well. Easily bullied of the ball by Gareth Barry, his attacking contributions have also been mediocre where he misplaced passes that could have easily led to attacking chances countless times in the first half. Though substituted for an ankle compliant, Ramires, his replacement, proved a more capable attacking outlet in the second half.
While many might count his first hal performance as a one off of the young Brazilian, the same trend could be seen in his previous games. Most tellingly, Mourinho’s preference to play Willian in Oscar’s favoured number 10 role (one which ultimately caused the departure of Mata) in both high pressure games against Man City instead, hints at a likely drop in confidence from the manager.
At his best, we all know the qualities Oscar can bring to Chelsea. Industrious, intelligent and selfless, Oscar fits Mourinho’s plans as the perfect playmaker. While less creative than Mata, it was arguably his off the ball work that convinced Mourinho of his quality. Ranked high in the team for number of successful interceptions and tackles, Oscar’s defensive qualities high up the pitch has won back possession for the team numerous times, and spurred the start of many successful counter attacking moves. Yet against Everton, he struggled to exhibit his unique qualities. Perhaps a reason explaining his poor performance could be fatigue from the number of games he has played without break since last season, a staggering 77 games last season, 45 games this season. Without proper rest, many fear an ankle compliant now could lead to more disastrous injuries down in his career.