Chelsea 1 Stoke City 0: Oscar FA Cup performance hints the past doesn’t matter
Brazilian starred in the Blues' first post-Mata fixture
Sunday 26 January 2014
If this was the first game of the “Two Amigos” era at Stamford Bridge it was not a bad start. This was post-Juan Mata Chelsea, unimaginable last year, but here, in an impressive deconstruction of Stoke City, making perfect sense.
The trio of Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard was meant to be the basis for a decade of Chelsea teams, and last year looked like it might well be. Mata seemed to be Rafael Benitez’s favourite, his subtle brush-strokes helping to save Chelsea’s season and win them the Europa League last May.
Few would have thought he might be sold in January, and to a rival. But Jose Mourinho has never been one for conventional wisdom and he decided that Oscar and Hazard would be the rocks on which he built his Chelsea team. The football he wants to play is punchy and explosive. Oscar and Hazard, as they showed again, are the perfect men for this. Mata, for all his delicacy and imagination, was not.
It was no surprise that Oscar and Hazard started on Sunday, even with the prospect of a Premier League game against West Ham United on Wednesday night before Manchester City away a week today. This was Oscar’s 24th start of the season and Hazard’s 26th – of outfield players only Ramires, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic have started more.
When Mourinho talks about his “boys”, these are the most important two, who represent him on the pitch twice a week. They provide imagination and technical excellence, while offering a relentless scurry and a burst of power Mata seemed to lack.
Oscar was the matchwinner on Sunday, making it very clear from the start that this was a game he was in charge of. His eye for a pass is almost as good as Mata’s and he made early openings for Hazard and André Schürrle. They were not taken, so he got it done himself.
Standing over a free-kick 25 yards out, slightly to the right of centre, Oscar shaped as if to bend the ball into his nearer top corner, to Asmir Begovic’s left. The Stoke goalkeeper stepped that way but Oscar whipped it into the far corner, not very far away from Begovic but with so much bend and pace he had no chance of reversing his momentum.
That was brilliant and minutes later Oscar nearly added a similarly good second. Taking a brisk reverse pass from Hazard – each always knows where the other one is – he threw Marc Wilson off the scent with a stepover before driving a shot against the post.
Oscar was just as influential in the second half, setting up chances for Schürrle and Samuel Eto’o that should have been taken while nearly adding another of his own, an instinctive first-time clip which did not quite curl back in far enough.
Hazard was a menace throughout and, with better luck, could have set up two or three for his team-mates. In the first half incisive passes made chances for Eto’o, Oscar and Frank Lampard. In the second half he showed again his unique mix of acceleration, balance and control, burning past two tackles in the box before providing a cross which Ramires and Eto’o both somehow failed to convert.
One goal was enough to get Chelsea into the next round but the performance was better than that. This team is a work in progress but the plan is clear. Not everyone can be part of it, but those who are certainly deserve to be.
Latest in Sport
Arturo Vidal to Manchester United: Midfielder set to force through move to Louis van Gaal's Red Devils - reports
Manchester United transfer news: Mats Hummels, Daley Blind and Thomas Vermaelen on radar as Louis van Gaal reveals he still wants to sign defender
Carl Jenkinson: Arsenal fullback joins West Ham on season-long loan
Liverpool transfer news: Brendan Rodgers plans more Anfield signings this summer
Chelsea transfer news: Jose Mourinho confirms Fernando Torres is staying at Stamford Bridge
- 1 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 5 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us