Jun 3, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Brazil midfielder Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior (10) heads the ball in front of Mexico defender Carlos Salcido (3) during the first half at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
With Oscar's arrival pretty much guaranteed by this point, it's probably time to think about how he actually fits into the team. When Chelsea's interest was first announced, many wondered why the club was going after another player who could be classed as a central attacking midfielder. Oscar plays at number ten for the Selecao (starring in Brazil's humbling of Great Britian last week) and for Internacional.
At Chelsea, the central attacking midfielder position is occupied by a pair of phenomenal players in Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, which means it's about the last position that the Blues need to reinforce. Has Michael Emenalo wasted money on an unproven, unnecessary prospect? Well, not really.
I think what we're missing here is that there are several different styles of player you can slot in behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1. There are 'pure' trequartistas (think Juan Riquelme). The likes of Mata and Hazard are wing players repurposed as playmakers. You can have support strikers who play a little deeper than normal. The latter two options provide width and a direct threat respectively, but not much in the way of defensive responsibility. That's not Oscar, however.
It's also entirely possible to have a central midfield player pushed up to play in the hole. That's exactly what Oscar is, and why we hear about him playing 'deep' so often. He's obviously a number ten for Brazil, but his instincts tell him to track back, do some defending, and control the game rather than going for the kill per se. So instead of thinking that we've gotten another Eden Hazard in Oscar, consider him our version of Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos.
That's a promising comparison -- Kroos is an excellent player, and he provides a sense of defensive solidarity that, say, Mesut Ozil lacks. It's that sort of style that makes Oscar fans so convinced he'll be able to assume a deep-lying role for Chelsea, and although I'm skeptical that that transition can happen instantaneously it's very easy to see him slotting into the double pivot eventually as he gets stronger and learns a little more in the way of defensive position (the same transition Luka Modric has made with Tottenham Hotspur).
None of this answers the question of where Oscar would play next year. It's tempting to call him a rotational player for the third band in a 4-2-3-1, but I'm not entirely sure that's right. He's a good fit for the number ten spot, but a player who's about possession is somewhat wasted on the wing, and if I had to guess at his second-best position right now it'd be as a central midfielder in the 4-3-3 we're so used to Chelsea playing.
In other words, I see Oscar as Frank Lampard's short-term backup and long-term replacement. That's where he fits at Chelsea -- he's good enough and young enough that expecting him to eventually live up to Lampard's standards (Frank is hugely underrated in terms his actual midfield play) isn't totally insane, and he's obviously capable of making spot starts when the 34-year-old is rested, which should be frequently.
In other words, don't worry that we're reinforcing a position that we don't need to. Oscar might be Brazil's number ten, but his core strengths will allow Chelsea to use him in a position of genuine need (assuming we roll with a 4-3-3 from time to time), and his versatility will also be a useful tool as well. Based on what I've seen of his performances with his club and national teams, Oscar's not just a guy we picked up in the hopes of contributing down the line. He can do a job for us now, and when he develops he could turn into one of our most important players.