In Benitez’s duration as “Interim Manager” and the 27 games he has overseen, the trio of Mata, Hazard and Oscar have started games together on a mere 6 occasions. A frustrating stat as it was becoming apparent that their relationship on the field was beginning to blossom before Di Matteo’s departure. They were the Chelsea version of the “Holy Trinity” that led Barcelona to success or the “Three Tenors” that came to London last season with Napoli.
What has been just as big of an issue, is that when they have played, it has seen Oscar inexplicably used in a wider role whilst Mata has accommodated the central position. Now whilst I have no issue with Mata playing centrally, it is evident that he is far more adept on the wings than Oscar who has shined for club and country playing in his favourite number 10 role (I’m sure you’re all tired of positions being referred to by numbers but at least I don’t say 7 and a half). It should also be pointed out that Mata himself has been more productive and effective when he was playing from the right hand side of the three. With that in mind, it seems to make perfect sense to play Oscar down the middle and Mata on the right… Similarly to 2+2 = 4.
This by the way is not a rant on tactical ineptness on the part of Benitez, if you are here for that please feel free to read this. Sorry to disappoint.
On the contrary, this is a suggestion for Benitez himself with the upcoming game against West Brom in mind to attempt and rebuild the partnership that looks set to terrorise defences in the Premiership and Europe over the course of the foreseeable future. I asked a journalist as to why he felt Benitez has refrained from starting the three together and the response was that “They are all too similar and that Oscar is too callow to impose himself on games” whilst on the surface this comment seems to have some degree of merit, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It firstly suggests the manager has a lack of respect for the ability Oscar possesses or that he is not trusting of his ability, yet arguably the most prestigious footballing nation on the planet has rested their hopes of winning the World Cup on his shoulders. No surprise then reports surfaced earlier in his reign, following the loss to Corinthians that Oscar was not content with starting on the bench (Reports were of course denied). As for the suggestion the three are all similar players, in the sense that they are technically superior to the rest of the squad… Is plausible. However, Hazard’s strength lies in his fleet of foot dribbling and direct nature, whilst Oscar’s movement and awareness sets him apart from those around and Juan Mata has the vision and accuracy that matches the best in the world. Yes, they have certain similar characteristics and play roughly the same positions but to brandish them as similar footballers is being naive in understanding each player’s true ability.
Staying on the agenda of clearing up misconceptions, it was suggested that the three as a partnership were broken up to ensure defensive stability. If that was the case, removing Oscar out the equation out of the three just seems illogical. He, above the rest, appears to relish his defensive duties and is determined in winning possession back when it is lost. Oscar provided the tenacity to pressure the opposing midfielders and not allow them time on the ball, this was perfectly evidenced by his performance against Juventus at Stamford Bridge and the role he played in shutting down Andrea Pirlo. His attacking contribution wasn’t too shabby that night either. The importance of not allowing the opposition midfielders time on the ball, resulted in Chelsea not being dominated in the midfield area, especially now that they can be overrun when teams play with three central midfielders and make it difficult for the two in the pivot roles to get a foot in the game and as a result become bypassed in both attacking and defensive phases of the game. Without Oscar in the line up, Mata has failed to replicate that sort of pressure on the opposition and teams have on occasions found it relatively simple to control the game. This has been crippling considering the vulnerability of the Chelsea midfield at the moment due to the lack of depth and quality that exists.
I’ve already pointed out already very briefly but there are always suggestions that to bring the best out of Mata, he needs to be the central figure, yet the stats would prove otherwise. Whilst I’m not always keen on reducing the game to numbers, Mata’s best run of form for Chelsea was from a period in which he started games from the right of the three and to illustrate the calibre of the opposition that run of form was during, games included: Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Another common argument is that with all three together on the pitch there is a lack of width and that a blanket can be thrown to cover all three players, such is the tight proximity in which they play. This is undoubtedly true on occasions but I’m certain defences around the world wouldn’t relish the prospect of preventing them space to create a moment of magic and let’s all remind ourselves that it is no longer Didier Drogba on the end of crosses. This is in no way suggesting Victor Moses isn’t talented but that he provides an alternative approach to what should be our main plan of attack.
It doesn’t take a ‘rocket scientist’ to see that Chelsea have boundless potential if these three gel together and bring out the best in one another, they are after all the product of roughly £70million and they’re worth every penny. Benitez has been weary of playing the three together but if he is so committed to the club and wants to win every game, the combination of Mata, Oscar and Hazard might well provide the best solution for that ambition.
So please Rafa, whilst we may not care about you, nor you us, if there is any truth that you care about Chelsea Football Club, start playing the three best players we have… and in the right position.
The three provide a silver lining in a very dark cloud that has engulfed Stamford Bridge this season.