When asked what Eden Hazard’s best role at Chelsea was, Jose Mourinho maintained that the mercurial Belgian was not a number ten – the player that operates in the hole behind a lone striker.
He cited previous players Deco and Wesley Sneijder, who had pulled the strings for the Portuguese trainer at Porto and Inter Milan respectively, as possessing the skillsets to operate in the important playmaking role.
As such Hazard, arguably the Blues’ most explosive and dangerous attacking option, has been used on the left-wing for the majority of his time at Stamford Bridge and even as a centre forward in the recent 0-0 draw with Spurs.
Willian has been the man to get the nod in ‘the hole’ more often than not this season and has been a rare bright spark for the ailing Premier League champions. However, if the West London club are to regain some of their devastating attacking intent from last season, the rejuvenation of Oscar seems necessary.
Although Willian has shown skill and vision in a central role, there is no doubting that his compatriot and international team-mate is the most natural playmaker in Chelsea’s squad.
Like Deco and Sneijder, Oscar has a deft touch, footballing intelligence both in and out of possession and a range of passing to rival anyone in the Premier League. Most tellingly, the former Internacional schemer is one of the few players at Chelsea’s disposal that does not rely on physical attributes to be effective.
While others in the Blues team look to their pace or strength to out-do opponents, and the collective have been an impressive physical outfit at their best, Oscar relies more on his footballing ability.
In the past he has been the link man between the attack and midfield, the player to control the tempo of Chelsea’s attack and the star to play the defence-splitting pass.
This season, with the Stamford Bridge side struggling to break down opponents and the collective in the final third not adding up to the sum of its parts, Oscar has been missed. The Brazil international has struggled with debilitating injuries and has subsequently failed to build any momentum, with signs that his confidence, like many around him, is also suffering.
As such the South American playmaker has started less than half of the London club’s Premier League games so far this season and the Blues’ attack has been one-dimensional and devoid of creativity as a result.
Mourinho knows Oscar’s ability well and clearly rates the 23-year-old highly.
He tried to sign the Brazilian for Real Madrid during his time in the Spanish side’s dugout and was willing to ostracise Juan Mata to facilitate Oscar in his Chelsea team.
Although others in the Blues squad must get back to their best if the club are to challenge for the top four this season, Oscar, a player whose importance is sometimes overlooked, could play a key role in the team’s rejuvenation.