The Brazil international fell out of favour at Stamford Bridge last season but has become the Blues’s unsung hero this term after a string of fine performances.
On the verge of becoming a hate figure in the aftermath of Jose Mourinho’s sacking, Oscar’s days at Chelsea seemed numbered at the end of last season. But under Antonio Conte the Brazil international has changed his game and become the Blues’s unsung hero in their unbeaten start to the season.
Conte has pushed Oscar up the pecking order in west London after a successful pre-season where he showcased his willingness to play in a variety of positions as well as scoring a couple of goals having benefited from his new manager’s rigourous fitness regime.
Fast-forward six weeks, and though Diego Costa stole the headlines against Swansea City,it was Oscar who provided the game’s real moment of magic. Having plucked a defensive clearance high out of the air, eh lifted his head and provided Costa with a chance through a perfectly weighted pass through the heart of the home defence.
The pass was everything we associate with the 25-year-old, but it is the steeliness that he has added to his game that has really caught the eye. Oscar’s tackles per game are at an all time high this season at 3.3 – with the previous highest figure of 2.5 coming in his first season in the English top-flight.
After his first four games, you can see that the luxury player is dead and the fan’s opinions are playing catch up as they get used to a new Oscar, who has gone from lightweight to robust.
You can no longer judge an Oscar performance by whether he has scored or assisted, with his defensive work-rate becoming a key part of shoring up a defence that has struggled so far this season. Cruelly, Oscar’s gain is Cesc Fabregas’s loss, as he has adapted far better to Conte’s new methods with the Spaniard finding himself stuck on the bench.
There is still a lingering resentment from some supporters for Oscar after he was preferred by Jose Mourinho, leading to the sales of both Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne.
In fact, it is fair to say that Chelsea fans who wanted Oscar to stay at the club in the summer were in the minority as he was linked with move to Juventus and clubs in China.
But Conte has now developed a classic midfielder that can contribute to his team even when his flicks and through balls are not coming off.
His passing has always been a strength, but even that facet of his game has improved under the new boss while he is also asked to get forward and help Willian down the right-hand side.
Chelsea’s failed attempt to sign Radja Nainggolan this summer have been softened by Conte’s ability to tailor a, sort of, ‘new Nainggolan’ out of Oscar’s raw ingredients.
The former Italy boss’s unpopular decision to drop Fabregas for Oscar has been vindicated by his side’s early season form, but the midfielder is yet to prove themselves against the best the league has to offer, such as Friday’s opponents Liverpool.
Oscar is still young and elements of his game needed refining to bring consistency, but his talent and even his physicality have always been there.
Ironically, his spot in his national team has been wrestled away from him by two players arriving at Stamford Bridge this week in the shape of Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, but his early season form means he is knocking on the Brazil door..
For now, his open-mindedness is allowing him to plot his own defining moment in his club career, and if Chelsea are to maintain a title push this season he is likely to remain absolutely key.