Brazilian footballers have always been a treat to watch. Usually, they prefer to stay away from the British Isles because of the stark change in the weather as compared to South America, and move to Spain or such warmer climes. But two of the finest attacking mids to have come out of Brazil are currently playing for the English giants Chelsea and Liverpool. The two are Oscar and Coutinho, respectively. Ask any Chelsea fan and they will say Coutinho is overrated, and the Kop faithful will answer that by saying that Oscar is lazy and not deserving of an NT starting spot over Coutinho.
But the truth is that both Oscar and Coutinho have been crucial for their club sides’ style of play and while it is puzzling why Coutinho is often overlooked for Brazil, it is also important to note that it is Oscar who brings cohesion and discipline to their attack. Despite both players playing in the number 10 role, it is remarkable how different their styles of play are. Oscar is a player who likes to come deep to collect the ball and then carry it to the attackers while Coutinho likes to drop in between the lines and tries to unsettle the defence.
Eric Cantona once described the defensive midfielder’s role as that of a water carrier, without whom the team would fail to thwart attacks and start the same. Oscar is that kind of a player who stops and starts attacks. But like anything samba, he comes with a twist. He performs the role of a water carrier high up the pitch, where he can also use his vast array of technical skills to thread a killer pass or take an accurate shot. There are players who excel at what Oscar does in the center of midfield, but there are not many who can do it high up the pitch, where Oscar operates. He might just be a ‘playmaking water carrier’ or a ‘defensive number 10’, in either case the only one of his type.
Coutinho on the other hand, is more of a running number 10. He likes to dribble and beat opponents. He is also adept at starting from a wide position and working his way inside. At the start of the season, Gary Neville, while live on MNF, noted that Coutinho’s success is thanks to his clever positioning. He operates between the lines of midfield and defence leaving both confused so as to who is assigned the duty of marking him. Often it wreaks havoc as defenders get caught out of position in trying to shut him down and he uses that space to thread a pass in behind the defence. His attack numbers would have looked much better had he been playing for a side with a better finisher, as in the game against Arsenal, where Markovic squandered the 1v1 set up by Coutinho.
With the introduction of Fabregas this season, Oscar has seen his role changed for Chelsea. Earlier his role was to come deep and collect the ball, but now most of his responsibility is find those vertical passing opportunities where a 10 yard vertical pass can split the defence open. Also, he fills in on the left most of the time with Hazard drifting inside. In games when Oscar doesn’t play, Chelsea have found it difficult to make the transition from the 35 yard line to the penalty box. This is what Oscar brings to the side. He is a direct outlet in a team of tricky lateral players.
Over at Merseyside, with Suarez being sold, all the creative pressure fell on Sterling and Coutinho, with Sturridge injured. Both the youngsters stepped up to the occasion and have stewarded Liverpool to a healthy points tally. A better striker and they might just have been challenging for the top 4 more vehemently. Coutinho has certainly faded off since the start of the season, and the same could be said of Oscar as well.
For Chelsea to secure the title, they need 16 points out of a possible 24. Though this is not daunting, they will be facing sides desperate for points and they will require the incisiveness of Oscar to break down packed defences. Liverpool on the other hand need to win all their remaining games and hope the one of the other top 4 challengers falter badly in order to have a chance at securing a CL spot. Maybe the can even end their season on a positive note if Coutinho starts playing at his best again. The two sides meet on 9th May, but if things go the way they have been going, their PL destinies would surely be locked by then.
Stats Courtesy – Squawka.com