Oscar – Brazil’s Prince of Stamford Bridge

oscar_chelsea_reu_533133201SB Nation Soccer’s Graham MacAree profiles Oscar, Chelsea’s Brazilian magician…

There’s something of the child in Oscar. For most footballers, the spectre of failure compels them to take the safe route as often as possible, honing specific skills and executing them when the time is right. But children are notorious for their incredible blend of naivete and curiosity. Can I do this? Let’s find out! It’s a special kind of fearlessness, and it’s what makes Oscar so special.

There’s nobody else in this Chelsea team who can match what Oscar does. Juan Mata and Eden Hazard are magicians, of course, but there’s the feeling that they refuse to experiment on the same scale as Oscar does, favouring ruthless efficiency over flamboyance.

Which is why most of the most incredible, what-just-happened?! moments of last season came via Oscar. When Mata bends a free kick past the wall and just inside the post, there’s no feeling of surprise. Juan Mata’s is brilliant and will do brilliant things. Nor is it a shock when Hazard dashes through a cloud of befuddled defenders and slots past the keeper. That’s what Eden Hazards do.

Oscar’s trademark, on the other hand, is having the temerity to try the barely-plausible, to test the very limits of his skill at the drop of a hat. It seems as though the idea that what he’s about to attempt might not work never crosses his mind. Oscar’s moments of magic, in fact, are reminiscent of a certain Stamford Bridge legend. Continue reading

Arsenal, Tottenham and the return of the Number Eight

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Simon Smith’s latest tactics column looks at North London’s Number Eights, who are currently trumping their rivals’ split teams…

An Arsenal fan recently told me he hoped Tottenham would finish second in the league this season. It turned out to be a tongue in cheek setup for a joke about how Arsenal always finish higher. While I laughed, I’m sure Spurs fans will struggle to see the humour through the cruelty: recruiting a new manager, changing the playing squad, extracting every last penny from the Madrid coffers to reinvest this season – literally every meticulous thing Daniel Levy has been able to do to improve Tottenham’s standing has been done. Meanwhile the red half of North London have somehow managed, at times, to appear languid and lazy while staying one step ahead.

Whether or not that will be the case by May remains to be seen, but certainly this increasingly divergent ethos of each team has been on display already this season. It’s not so much a style of play as much as a method in achieving this style: I couldn’t help but notice the very Tottenham and Arsenal ways that their new number eights have been unearthed and harnessed this season. I’m talking about the more attack-minded holding player, the function midfielder as opposed to the defensive specialist. Both have made a conscious decision to change the individual charged with this role, both have improved their fluidity as a result, but both have achieved this in a different manner. Continue reading

Can Brazil make home advantage count in 2014?

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With the countdown well under way for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Rory Macdowall assesses the host’s chances of winning the tournament on home soil…

On 16th July 1950 in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana, Alcides Ghiggia completed a storming run to fire in a goal at the near post, securing a Uruguayan victory in that year’s World Cup. The goal was met with near silence in a primarily Brazilian crowd of 173,850, stunned into submission by one of the greatest upsets in football history. The loss burned in the hearts of the biggest footballing nation on the planet, their right to win thwarted by their tiny neighbour to the south.

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‘The False Nine’ – A Critical Assessment

The False Nine‘s Michael David looks at a formation that is as beguiling as it is controversial and pays homage to it for our appropriately-named website…

One day, approximately four years ago, this writer popped into a WH Smiths before a long train journey, to pick up the customary form of entertainment for such an occasion; ‘FourFourTwo’ magazine. Continue reading