The Rise of the Wizard of Os
Not too long ago, few people could ever imagine a Chelsea without Juan Mata. Voted Player of the Year for 2 seasons in a row after inspiring the team to victory in the Champions League and then Europa League, Mata was the driving force that led the team to glory; the heart of the team. He was constantly involved in the team’s attacking forays, and was the lone bright spot in an ageing and underwhelming Chelsea team in transition.
Few people would have foreseen the demise of Mazacar and the rise of the Wizard of Os. Mata was so seamlessly yet controversially streamed out of Chelsea’s attacking trio that few seemed to realise any distinctive difference in Chelsea’s performance on the pitch. Yes, Mata’s demise was widely publicised and his unhappiness was well documented, but his absence wasn’t keenly felt on the pitch. And the main reason for this has undoubtedly been Willian’s immense performances for Chelsea.
The irony is really how so many pundits were so sceptical of Willian’s arrival at Chelsea, claiming that he was bought simply to deprive Tottenham and Liverpool of their man. With the wealth of talent Chelsea had in his position, possessing 7 attacking midfielders at one point, no one thought that Willian would be playing such a pivotal role for this Chelsea side. But Mourinho proved his critics wrong, and saw in Willian the perfect man for his team. His tactical versatility compensated for his diminutive size, and he has clearly repaid Mourinho’s faith in him with the kind of performances he has been putting in.
But more impressive than his displays on the pitch are probably his displays off the pitch, during training, which convinces his manager to pick him over the other more established attacking midfielders. Mata was the fan favourite and had built a reputation for himself at Chelsea, while Kevin de Bruyne was an extremely talented player who made his bow on the opening day of the season. Willian was clearly seen as an outsider to earn a starting spot, but he did what seemed ‘impossible’ by ousting Mata from the pitch.
During the early weeks of the season, Mourinho was tinkering with his squad, unsure of what was his best squad and still experimenting with different tactics. WIllian did not feature much during this period, given odd substitute appearances and run outs in cup games. But since late November, WIllian cemented his place on the field and Mata’s on the bench, starting 19 of the 22 matches since the start of December. His tracking back and defensive duties, seen to be the hallmark of Mourinho’s teams, earned him a starting berth, and together with Oscar and Hazard, formed a formidable attacking trio that seems to be a vast improvement on last season’s Mazacar.
But Willian’s brilliance does not take any of the limelight away from Hazard or Oscar. The Belgian wonder kid is just simply world-class and nothing more needs to be said about him or his talent. Where we should really focus our attention is the other Brazilian, Oscar. His performances last season led many to believe that he would be the sacrificial lamb if the manager decided to introduce fresh faces into the already established Mazacar trio. But he has improved so much that Mourinho had decided to build the team around him, and made him the first choice playmaker ahead of fan-favourite Juan Mata.
Of course, much of this had to do with Oscar’s ability to perform his defensive duties well, but his early season form was so impressive that Mourinho had no option but to play him ahead of his other creative players. While Hazard was still settling in to the new manager’s plans, Oscar took huge strides to establish his position ahead of his compatriots, racking up 6 goals and 4 assists to spearhead Chelsea’s campaign.
While Willian may seem to be Mata’s replacement in the starting lineup, it is in fact the case that Oscar has been Mata’s direct replacement, playing in his preferred role of playmaker, while Willian has drifted out wide to play a role more similar to Oscar’s last season.
Oscar deserves as much credit, if not more credit than, Willian for playing Chelsea’s brightest and most entertaining football in almost 3 years and establishing Chelsea’s first title charge in 4 years. Hazard is clearly Chelsea’s best player this season, and his ability to produce magic on the field has become an all too familiar scene for Chelsea fans. Willian, Oscar and Hazard have been working in tandem to rejuvenate this Chelsea team and lead us back to the world’s elite.
The Wizard of Os is truly back.