For most of Chelsea's fearsome creative trio, it's clear what the future has in store. Juan Mata is one of the sport's premier number tens and Eden Hazard will always be at his best when running at defenders. But things are not so clear cut for the last of the Mazcateers. Oscar's clearly a gifted player, and he's had flashes of utter genius this year, but he's gifted in a way that makes it difficult to comfortably project his career.
Brazil see him as a direct successor to Kaka in the hole behind the striker. He's been effective in spells on the wing with Chelsea. And he can also play in midfield, having been played in the pivot reasonably frequently when the Blues needed to chase the game. He has significantly more defensive ability than either Mata or Hazard, and when that's combined with his technique and vision, he seems like a natural fit to play a little bit deeper.
At Plains of Almeria, the consistently fantastic Joe Tweeds details just why it's worth looking at pushing Oscar into a deeper role:
The most pressing concern when it comes to our midfield play is the lack of consistent service from midfield to front four. Whether this is due to an inability to skilfully avoid an athletic/robust pressing game, lack of passing acumen or somewhere in between it has become a worryingly tangible feature. We are desperate for an intelligent upgrade here and shifting Oscar to an area of the pitch which increases his importance can only benefit those around him.
Too many players in our midfield are comfortable playing safe passes. This works if one player does it, but when both players adopt this approach the game is infuriatingly slow. Our passing game, particularly from deep, is something that Oscar will greatly benefit. He has frequently exhibited the ability to drop deep from his starting position to play exquisitely arrowed passes across field or to a striker. The overall intelligence, care and use of the ball when in possession is something that we sorely lack.
While it's certainly plausible that Oscar could become the deep-lying playmaker Joe envisions, I'm not sure that's the most sensible position for him.As has been noted several (dozen) times, Mata aside the squad seems horrendously ill-suited to the 4-2-3-1, and if Chelsea switch to a more natural three-man midfield, then there's not much chance of Oscar suddenly becoming Andrea Pirlo, alone in front of defence.
But that might be good for him, because while I think that a slightly-bulkier Oscar could do reasonably well in a double pivot, his abilities would be better served higher up the pitch. In the 21-year-old the Blues have a player who can disrupt defences up and down the pitch, whether that be via distribution from deep or though close-range interchanges and mazy dribbling. If he improves his defending even further, restricting him to the deep playmaker role seems like a waste.
Instead, I'd prefer to see a different experiment: Oscar as the furthest forward in a midfield trio. He'd have the leeway to move deep to pick up possession, but most of his focus would be higher up the pitch, where his dribbling can be effective without compromising his defensive position. In a 4-3-3 alongside a holding player and a box-to-box midfielder, Oscar could stitch the play together and contribute to the pointy end of the attack.
I wrote last summer that I see him as the spiritual successor to Frank Lampard, and while their styles are obviously very different and the jury's still out on whether Oscar will ever been good enough defensively to be a true central midfielder, the potential is still there. Unlike Mata or Hazard, Oscar has no deficiencies to hide, and should be put in a position where all of his skills are on show. Let's not put any constraints on the kid just yet.