What if I told you that there was a player who scored more often than Raheem Sterling, provided assists more often than David Silva or Mesut Ozil, took more shots inside the box than Eden Hazard, and had more key passes than Luka Modric? What if I then said that this same player tackled more often than Jordan Henderson or Daley Blind, had more interceptions than Yaya Toure, and had an overall defensive contribution almost exactly matching Paul Pogba? How much would you want Chelsea to be willing to spend to acquire that player? It would surely be one of the biggest transfers of the summer if the Blues were able to acquire someone that good.
Well, in fact, Chelsea already have this player, and his name is Oscar. Although the inheritor of Frank Lampard’s number 8 shirt isn’t flashy, he does his job more effectively than many better-regarded global stars.
Take, for instance, Oscar’s defensive contributions. His role in the middle of the pitch gives him the opportunity to make a difference when the Blues don’t have the ball, and boy does he take those chances. Let’s take a look at the sum of tackles, interceptions and fouls*, the instances throughout the course of a game in which a player, and especially a midfield player, breaks up the play of their opponent and generally stops them from doing whatever it is that they are trying to do in attack.
*Some might argue that fouls committed are actually harmful since they lead to set pieces and potential scoring chances, and that would certainly be true for defenders, but since we are looking at midfielders, on average, they tend to do more good than harm.
Oscar’s tackles per 90 minutes? High, over five per game. His fouls? Off the charts at almost two. He is somewhere in the middle of the pack for interceptions, but that makes sense given that he generally plays in the number 10 spot and Chelsea tend to press fairly aggressively, so the opportunity for interceptions is not as frequent for him as it is for someone who generally sits deeper in the field (like, say Nemanja Matic or Manchester United’s Daley Blind, who have the highest numbers in the category).
When you add up Oscar’s defensive contributions, he starts to look like a true central midfielder. That’s impressive — his total of 7.3 defensive actions (Tackles plus Interceptions plus Fouls) per game puts him right in between Cesc Fabregas at 7.27 and transfer window darling Paul Pogba at 7.4. All that from the man playing behind the striker, a position which usually sees flair players roam free. At this point Oscar is sounding more like a happy Jose Mourinho dream than a real footballer.
But it’s easy to imagine a nominally attacking midfielder who, rather than helping his team score, drops back and does dirty work defensively instead. That’s great to see, but it would be worth very little if it came at the cost of creativity and scoring, which are typically the primary roles of attacking midfielders like Oscar. So how does Oscar stack up in these areas? Oscar’s contributions when Chelsea are on the back foot make him a useful player, as everyone knows, but the knock against him is that he doesn’t do nearly enough to help the Blues score.
That knock is wrong.
Statistically, it turns out that Oscar does very well in attacking categories as well. Looking at total goals plus assists per 90 minutes, a standard measure of attacking production, we find that Oscar comes in at 0.63. That’s an impressive number, very slightly behind Cesc Fabregas (0.65) and David Silva (0.65), and very slightly ahead of the reigning Premier League Player of the Year (Eden Hazard, obviously). Allow me to repeat that: Oscar has a higher goals plus assists per 90 minutes than Eden Hazard. He also beats out some other very big names, including Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Mesut Ozil, Philippe Coutinho, and Raheem Sterling. Not bad for an attacking liability.
Oscar splits his numbers fairly evenly between goals (0.27 per 90) and assists (0.36), whereas the best attacking midfielders tend to be specialists. Alexis Sanchez, for example had nearly twice as many goals as assists, and Fabregas was almost all assists. In fact, despite having a respectable 0.27 goals per 90 (above average, even among elite attacking midfielders), Oscar still manages to have a phenomenal number of assists. Being on the same team as Fabregas has perhaps obscured that fact.
One genuine knock against Oscar is that his goal conversion rate is relatively poor, meaning that he takes more shots, both inside and outside the box, to score the same number of goals as other “elite” midfielders. In fact, Oscar needs 11.8 shots per goal scored, which is more than twice as many as Hazard or Silva, although admittedly still even with Raheem Sterling and Santi Cazorla, both of whom are very good players. If Oscar can simply work on his finishing, then he will jump another level and one of the best players on the planet. That said, he is already clearly one of the most well-rounded players in the game today.
Not many people talk about Oscar as being one of the best players in the Premier League, but the evidence shows that his name should be right there at the top of the list. And if he can indeed make a similar jump this season as Hazard did last season, which Mourinho and many others have picked him out to do, then there’s every chance that Chelsea will have not only one but two solid Ballon D’Or candidates in a few years.
We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.Credits