The opening game of the World Cup was full of drama and controversy. The catastrophic early own goal, the penalty that should never have been given, Neymar’s two goals and the red card that he maybe should have had. But the only thing Chelsea fans want to discuss is just how good Oscar was.
Played out in an unfamiliar wide midfield position, he started off on the wing and had a shaky beginning, being dispossessed a couple of times and missing the target with a couple of simple passes.
But soon he began to find his feet. He whipped in a couple of devastating crosses that deserved to be converted into goals; he beat defenders; he linked up elegantly and intelligently with Neymar; he outfought and out-tackled the Croatian midfield; he moved inside and back out to the wing, dragging his markers with him; he created the first goal with a tiger like run that took him past three opponents; and finally, led a spectacular breakaway to score Brazil’s third goal from long range.
What Chelsea fans want to know, however, is whether he can replicate this form when he returns to Stamford Bridge. Because we haven’t seen this sort of man-of-the-match performance from Oscar for many months – in fact, he’s played so drably and anonymously, he’s frequently been dropped from the team. And this by a manager who had called him the team’s playmaker earlier in the season.
So what had gone wrong from Oscar? There was a suspicion, voiced by – among others – Jose Mourinho, that he was perhaps saving himself for the World Cup, playing within himself so as to avoid injury and fatigue. Another possibility is that the tactical switch to a more defensive formation, ordered by Mourinho after the defeat against Stoke, stifled Oscar by bypassing the area of the field in which he excels.
Neither theory seems to fully explain the drop-off in the player’s form after the turn of the year. Both may be true to a certain extent, but it could just be a natural dip in performance that happens to every player. It could also be that the number of games he has played over the last two seasons had finally caught up with him (bear in mind that he spent last summer playing in the Confederations Cup) and that Chelsea resting him has had the unintentional knock-on effect of ensuring that he is now in better condition for the World Cup.
Whatever the truth of it, the big issue is whether he can replicate the form when he returns to London. It’s possible that the signing of Cesc Fabregas might well assist that. With Fabregas controlling central midfield, Oscar can concentrate on the runs and passes that defences find hard to contain. And who knows – it’s possible that Mourinho will even consider playing him out wide, or even on the wing, as he did last night for Brazil?The prospect of Oscar whipping in crosses and jinking in off the wing into the penalty area could well be giving Premier League defenders nightmares already.