LA Galaxy
Game Details
 By Phil Lythell

Chelsea midfielder Oscar hoping for fresh start under Antonio Conte

Oscar was not able to showcase his true skills last season.

There is always plenty of anticipation prior to the first preseason game, but especially when it represents the start of a new regime.

The lack of sharpness and the quest for fitness, however, means that it is always an underwhelming affair and Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Rapid Vienna was no different, despite the first welcome sight of new coach Antonio Conte frantically gesturing on the sidelines.

The management might have changed, but there were still some things reminiscent of last season. Diego Costa managed to get into an argument over nothing, Victor Moses starred yet again in a friendly match and an error from Branislav Ivanovic resulted in a goal. There was also more glimpses from Oscar that he can evolve into the creative spark that he has threatened to be throughout his career in England.

The Brazilian has become the great enigma of latter day Chelsea. A player clearly blessed with exceptional footballing talent, it is a source of immense frustration that he has been unable to translate that into consistent performances. It always seems that he is about to take the next step in his development without ever quite reaching it and that he is still trading on his potential, despite now being 24 and having spent four years at Stamford Bridge.

Oscar's future at Chelsea must be the focus of debate within the new management setup, especially as he still retains sizeable transfer value and has often been courted by Juventus over the past few years. The next few weeks could therefore prove pivotal to the next stage in his career.

From one perspective, it is not hard to see him becoming part of Conte's plans. At his best, Oscar is an energetic and diligent player that covers a lot of ground and isn't afraid to put his foot in. Add that to his silky touch and deft passing and you have an individual that can positively affect the play both with and without the ball.

Conte himself will be well aware of the midfielder's talents having witnessed his full Chelsea debut firsthand as Juventus manager when he scored a magnificent brace in the 2-2 draw between the two sides in London during the Champions League group stage in September 2012.

Unfortunately, Oscar combines those attributes too infrequently, struggling to maintain a high level over long sequences of matches. Although he is capable of delivering a quality display in any given match, he failed to repay Jose Mourinho's faith after the Portuguese sold Juan Mata to Manchester United to accommodate Oscar in the No. 10 role. Patches of excellence were too often followed by periods of mediocrity and his annual dip in performance after Christmas has been a feature of his time at the club. That he hasn't been able to put a whole season of largely high-level displays together while at Stamford Bridge is certainly a mark against him.

There was a prevailing theory that his constant involvement in summer international tournaments with Brazil was the root of this problem, but that doesn't explain his disappointing last campaign despite having been ruled out of the 2015 Copa America with a minor injury.

It is always foolish to read too much into preseason games, especially the first one after the summer break, though it was noticeable that Conte named a strong looking starting XI in Vienna that did not contain Oscar.

Instead, Ruben Loftus-Cheek was selected in an advanced position that saw him play more like a second striker in tandem with Diego Costa than as a creator. That the young Englishman -- a player whose destiny surely lies as a conventional central midfielder -- was chosen to play in this unfamiliar role ahead of the Brazilian was a slight surprise and might just be an indication of the initial pecking order under Conte. Though to Oscar's credit, he produced a busy and effective display with plenty of clever touches after he replaced Loftus-Cheek at half-time.

With the possibility that the team is to regularly feature two central midfielders (one of whom will surely be new signing N'Golo Kante) and two authentic strikers, it seems likely that any involvement for Oscar would have to be in midfield.

Having rarely shone when deployed in wide positions and with more natural options available to support Diego Costa -- such as Michy Batshuayi, Pedro Rodriguez, Bertrand Traore and Eden Hazard -- the only area where he could add real value is in the middle of the pitch. Given his all-round qualities, it is a role in which he has the potential to flourish and one that has been advocated by many supporters over the last few years.

But there still remains a question mark hanging over him as well as that weighty, burdensome word, "potential." The arrival of Conte has heralded the start of a new era at Chelsea, Oscar will be banking on it signifying a fresh start for his career in west London.

Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.