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Why is Oscar being picked ahead of Cesc Fabregas for Chelsea?

Why is Oscar being picked ahead of Cesc Fabregas for Chelsea?

Though Chelsea rued their profligacy in front of goal in yesterday’s 2-2 draw at Swansea, it was another cohesive and controlled performance. The Blues look a well-balanced side and Antonio Conte has every right to be satisfied with 10 points from a possible 12 in the Premier League, even if the early season fixture list has been kind to him. Not much has changed in terms of personnel. The back five of Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta is the same foundation on which Chelsea built a title-winning campaign two seasons ago. The same could be said for established wide-men Eden Hazard and Willian, as well as Diego Costa leading the line. The only area of the team where Conte has visibly tinkered is in central midfield.

The main beneficiary of the Italian’s changes has been Oscar, who has displaced Cesc Fabregas in Chelsea’s starting XI for the time being. Under Jose Mourinho, the Blues tended to play with a 4-2-3-1 formation with two central midfielders and a clearly identifiable No 10. Under Conte, Chelsea have tended to line up in something closer to a 4-1-4-1, with summer signing N’Golo Kante the designated ‘sitter’ in the midfield three, with Nemanja Matic and Oscar expected to move up and down the field like two pistons carrying out both offensive and defensive duties. Ironically, this close to the structure Mourinho preferred during his first spell at Stamford Bridge, with Claude Makelele in front of the back four and Frank Lampard and Michael Essien in box to box roles.

 

Oscar hasn’t always convinced the Chelsea faithful, who were unsure of his best position. Doubts over his offensive output led some to conclude he wasn’t quite cut out for the No 10 position; the Brazilian has not hit double figures for goals or assists in any Premier League season. However, he seems to have carved out a niche for himself in the ‘number 8’ role he is currently flourishing in.

Despite moving into a slightly deeper position, Oscar is still very much a creative player, as his delicious first time pass for Costa’s opener at the Liberty Stadium showed. Mourinho was quite critical of Oscar and, like some of his teammates, wanted to weigh him down with more defensive responsibilities. A further irony is that it is these very defensive qualities that are getting Oscar in the team presently. He has averaged 3.3 tackles per game, which is more than any other Chelsea player.

Conte needs the two midfielders ahead of Kanté to cover plenty of ground, and Oscar’s athletic ability is greater than that of Fabregas. It is also a philosophical alteration, as well as a tactical one. Much of Conte’s pre-season preparation was based upon fitness work, with frequent high intensity sprints. ‘Intensity’ is the word that Conte wants rubber stamped all over his team, and it seems that he trusts Oscar with the workload more than Fabregas.

 

If there is a doubt over Chelsea moving forward, it might be over whether their team has enough guile. At present, they are heavily reliant on Hazard to provide spark in the last third. When Chelsea won the title in 2014-15, Fabregas and Hazard got 27 assists between them. None of Chelsea’s title rivals came close to having two creative forces of this potency in their team, a major reason why the Blues won the league quite comfortably. Despite Chelsea’s domination of their opening four matches, they haven’t exactly put teams to the sword (with the exception of newly promoted Burnley). They needed late winners to overcome West Ham and Watford, and wasted a stack of opportunities to kill off Swansea yesterday.

If Hazard performs to his maximum level often enough and Costa remains fully focused, Chelsea should have enough firepower to keep up a title bid. They’ll need those two firing however, because clean sheets look as if they might be hard to come by and they’ll drop points if dominance goes unconverted.

Featured image: All rights reserved by arif_shamim

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