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On Oscar's 'not good enough' playing time

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

At the tender age of just 21, Oscar (dos Santos Emboaba Júnior, which you'll learn quickly if you ever need to search for him on Facebook or Wikipedia or Google) was a full-time starter for Chelsea Football Club.  Not many 21-year-olds can say that.  But he can, because he undoubtedly was.  And he still is; the next game he plays will already be his 150th for Chelsea.

Including his national team commitments, the joke goes, Oscar's been playing football non-stop since the dawn of time.  This often gets brought up because despite his constant, steady minutes, he can be a bit inconsistent and these two paradigms (inconsistent yet plays all the time) don't quite mesh.  Young players tend to be inconsistent of course, and he still is just 23.  But he's been playing football forever, so is that really an excuse anymore?  Though that may not be a useful question.  What is certain is that, for example, he was one of our best players in the first half of the season (even signed a new contract extension) and nowadays, that's not quite the case.  We can possibly observe a similar pattern in his previous two seasons with Chelsea, too.

In that vein, there's a hit piece in the Mail from bored professional Neil Ashton that claims certain silly things (Google it and read it at your own peril), backed by only one piece of concrete evidence: Oscar's playing time.  Which is fairly hilarious, considering that we used to beg Chelsea managers to give Oscar a break, but now that he (maybe) is playing a bit less, it's being used as a negative talking point against the player.

Yes, there's also the Mourinho quote post-Stoke about how Oscar was "not good enough" -- which, when divorced of the context of that particular day, does sound damning indeed -- but that's basically a tactical decision (on that particular day: Oscar's 5th start in 7) that's been blown way out of proportion.  It's not something to be completely ignored, but it's also not a fatal judgment.  Mourinho wanted a change of shape with two strikers on the pitch; he certainly wasn't going to take off Hazard or a better-than-par Willian.  How Oscar responds to Mourinho's public comments (challenge?) will be something to watch for however.

All that said, let's take a bit closer look at Oscar's playing time.  Ashton uses the fact that Oscar hasn't seen the full 90 in 11 straight starts to support his point, but that's hardly extraordinary.  Of Oscar's 72 Premier League starts, he's been on the pitch for the final whistle just 27 times.  And almost half of those (13) came in his first season.  If we look at all competitions under Mourinho, Oscar's started 69 times but finished out just 19 of those games.  Basically, the dude gets subbed off practically all the time.  In nearly three-quarters of his starts under Jose Mourinho, it's just what happens.

With a pretty decent injury record and a near-constant presence in the Chelsea first-team, Oscar hasn't missed too many games over the last three seasons (PL record:  34/38, 33/38, 25/30; CL/EL record:  15/15, 9/11, 7/8).  So let's just ignore any that he may have for the next bit here.  Taking out the missed games (most of which should've been due to injury or illness, like the Everton one recently) and the few where he went as an unused substitute, here's a 4-match running average of Oscar's starts and minutes.  I took out the unused substitute days because, as we established earlier, Oscar basically plays all the time, and often his unused sub days came when he wasn't quite 100%.  Also, I wanted to mainly look at what Ashton brought up, namely early substitutions off.  I chose 4 somewhat arbitrarily, though also because it roughly corresponds to a standard (also arbitrarily chosen) two-week period in Chelsea's modern life.  The numbers can certainly be re-run with a different period, if we think it'll make a difference.

Oscar starts

Red lines denote the start of each new season, black line is when Roberto Di Matteo was sacked.  Nothing immediately stands out from Oscar's first season in terms of starts, though perhaps we should not expect it to, considering the insane number of games that were on the Chelsea calendar and the rotation policy that went along with that.  Under Mourinho, Oscar certainly seemed to start far less regularly in the second half of last season than the first and perhaps that pattern is now starting to repeat itself.  Though with Mourinho preferring not to mess with success, Oscar racked up months and months of consecutive starts (when available and selected) earlier this season already.

Oscar minutes

The first season, as with the starts, is a jumbled mess.  Last season, the downward trend can be seen a bit more clearly, though it's interesting to note that he had two major dips.  First in November-December, then again in February-March.  This season, we mainly skipped the November issues and by the time we hit mid- to late-January, Oscar was playing more than ever under Mourinho -- (burnout, anyone?) -- before falling off the ledge once again, which is where we are now.

Inconsistent?  Sure.  Though his charts may not be too different from most other key players, especially key attacking players (who tend to get subbed more often than defensive players) in the Premier League.  Except Hazard; his would be a straight line from left to right, just under the 90-minute mark.  Incidentally, Oscar's average length of appearance is right around 67 minutes.

There's nothing in this data that would suggest that this is some sort of final straw.  Yes, Oscar's playing time has been dipping lately.  Right alongside his form.  The two go hand-in-hand, and Mourinho ain't no fool to unnecessarily persist with out-of-form players when he has other options he can try.  The question is, where will Oscar's form go next.  We've been here before with him and he's recovered every time before.  There's no reason to think he doesn't this time.  Unless we believe in random locker room rumors and in-fighting.

Data sources: SoccerwayFootball Lineups

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