By Liam Twomey
It is the evening of Wednesday September 19 at Stamford Bridge. As he receives a pass from Ashley Cole on the edge of the Juventus penalty area, Oscar finds himself instantly flanked, by Leonardo Bonucci on one side and Andrea Pirlo on the other. Even buoyed as he is by the deflected debut goal he scored less than two minutes earlier, it appears to be a nothing situation.
But it is not. In a moment which highlights astonishing vision, surgically precise spatial awareness and flawless technique in perfect harmony, the 21-year-old Brazilian touches the ball behind the bemused Pirlo before racing around him and unleashing a shot which dips and curls in a glorious arc beyond the great Gianluigi Buffon and into the top corner.
|OSCAR SEASON STATS
The five months since, however, have not been quite as beautiful or serene. For while there have been further flashes of the sensational talent which prompted Chelsea to pay Internacional £25 million in the summer, even Oscar’s genius could not prove impervious to the challenges posed by a new league, a new footballing culture and the atmosphere of chaos which surrounds his new club.
Until Manchester United came to Stamford Bridge at the end of October, Roberto Di Matteo’s men were both the leaders and the entertainers of the Premier League. Oscar played a key role in the acquiring of both titles, and the speed and quality of some of his combination play with fellow new-boy Eden Hazard and Juan Mata had led some to herald the blossoming of a ‘Blue Brazil’.
But the acrimonious home defeat to the Red Devils, together with the poisonous legacy of the Mark Clatternburg racism row, changed everything.
|GOING WILD FOR OSCAR
|"Oscar and Hazard play really well with the ball. They are able to keep it and assist, and for us it is very good to play like this."|
|"He's a fantastic player, one of the best around in my opinion, and I'm confident he'll help Chelsea a lot."|
|"They [Hazard & Oscar] are attuned to each other. Eden is great with his technique and with Oscar, they are a dangerous duo."|
|"Oscar will have a lot of time on the pitch and I'm sure he'll be a great player for the club."|
Oscar was the man to make way, with the more muscular, direct and defensively-aware Victor Moses invariably preferred. Artists do not tend to flourish under Benitez, deemed too flamboyant and ill-disciplined to have a place in teams designed with control rather than aesthetics in mind.
In the event, though, Benitez has been no more successful in stamping his own identity on this Chelsea side than Andre Villas-Boas or Luiz Felipe Scolari were. The Blues continue to concede goals with reckless abandon, while the benching of Oscar has succeeded only in placing more of the creative burden on the brilliant but increasingly-overworked shoulders of Mata.
Oscar himself, meanwhile, has been using the scraps of first-team action afforded him to show Benitez what he is missing, scoring home and away against Brentford to help ensure Chelsea’s continued passage in the FA Cup, and netting a sublime individual effort as a substitute against Sparta Prague to hand his team an away Europa League victory they had done nothing to deserve.
Having endured an enforced rest while many others in Benitez’s threadbare squad have been run into the ground, Oscar now looks the one man with the necessary talent and energy to paper over the cracks of a flawed team as the season approaches a crucial final few months. Moreover, every passing week in England seems to be making him a more comfortable, acclimatised player.
Faced with his failure to improve this Chelsea side, Benitez’s best hope of salvaging a listless campaign is to revert to what worked at Stamford Bridge back in the autumn. As such, he ignores Oscar at his peril, and to the detriment of all who still think of football as the beautiful game.
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