A huge tactical overhaul was required to get the best out of a talented squad and Antonio Conte was chosen at the man to lead it. Many expected that he would move to his favoured 3-5-2 and target players during the summer to make that possible. Although this might be his aim for the future, he hasn’t been able to achieve it during the first window. That hasn’t held Chelsea back though, as the Italian is a pragmatic and tactically astute coach, able to find other solutions. For the opening four matches, he has chosen to use a 4-1-4-1 formation and the return to form of many key players suggest that it was a good move from Conte.
One player that was thought to be surplus to requirements was Oscar, who has been a regular at the club for the past few seasons. He hasn’t set the world alight and many expected him to leave the club. However, Conte has changed his role in the team and he is beginning to emerge as one of the key players at the club, keeping Cesc Fabregas on the bench. The Brazilian has been moved back to a deeper position and is playing alongside Nemanja Matic, with Ngolo Kante behind them. It is a robust midfield that has played a major part in Chelsea’s early success.
The deeper role has taken eased the attacking burden on Oscar and allowed his work rate to stand out. Oscar is expected to press high up the pitch and he is very good at retrieving the ball in dangerous positions. Across the first four matches, he has averaged 3.3 tackles and 0.8 interceptions per game. This is very impressive for a player who has been known as an attacking player in the past. His work rate better suits the central midfield role, but he still has the freedom to roam and join attacks.
As he is playing in a midfield with both Nemanja Matic and Ngolo Kante, the Brazilian international is encouraged to get forward to contribute in the attacking half. He is averaging 2.5 shots and 2.5 key passes per game, which highlights his influence in the final third. His aggression and energy make him perfect for the box-to-box role that he is playing at Chelsea this season. It is the role that many expected that Fabregas would be playing this season, but he doesn’t have the work rate possessed by Oscar. The 25-year-old can cover the pitch and is better in the tackle, making him more suitable to start in the role.
In recent seasons, Oscar hasn’t contributed as many goals and assists as he has been expected to. The changes that Conte has made to his role play to his strengths and there has been nothing but praise for the midfielder at the start of the new season. His deeper role also allows both Willian and Eden Hazard to drift into central areas. Chelsea are very fluid in their new formation and that is largely down to the change in role for Oscar.
The Brazilian has been unfairly criticised for his contribution since arriving at Stamford Bridge. He has 38 goals and 37 assists as a Chelsea player, which is a good return considering he joined as a 20-year-old from Brazil. Although he lacks the dynamism of Eden Hazard, he is an excellent player and Conte was right to find a role for him in the first team. His new role accentuates his strengths and removes some of the expectation that has held him back. Oscar is going through a transformation under Conte and he will be a very important player as the season progresses.