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Jorginho admits Poland’s man-to-man marking forced him into ‘a lot of mistakes’

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Potential blueprint for how to stop Chelsea’s passing linchpin?

Italy v Poland - UEFA Nations League A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Jorginho has enjoyed a fine start to the season at Chelsea, helping Maurizio Sarri implement his pass-happy tactics, both as the linchpin at the center of all the possession and as the conductor of the team’s movements around him on the pitch. Those qualities, which make him perfect for Sarri-ball, were the biggest reason Chelsea stumped up the cash to outbid Manchester City for the 26-year-old’s services this summer. But those specialized qualities that are perfectly suited for his head coach’s tactics may not translate as well to other settings. We only have to look at Jorginho’s own struggles at Napoli before Sarri arrived.

On Friday, Jorginho lined up in the center of Italy’s 4-3-3, just as he does at Chelsea. The outcome was however markedly less impressive. Jorginho was relatively uninvolved and his passing was uncharacteristically error-strewn. He finished the first half with just 32 touches and 27 passes (both only 6th on the team), and to make matters worse, he gave the ball away (twice in quick succession!) in the move that led to Poland’s goal.

As Jorginho himself reflected after the match, Poland’s tactics knocked him off his usual game and, at least for a while, he could not quite cope with the man-to-man marking.

“We were unable to find the right passing lines and therefore have the right tempo. I personally made a lot of mistakes.

“When you have a man marking you who is paying no attention whatsoever to the rest of the game and only focusing on you, you have to create space for your teammates. I can’t try dummies or to see more of the ball in those situations.

“I fully admit it wasn’t my best performance and I made a lot of errors, including on the Poland goal. I couldn’t see as much of the ball as usual, so I tried to talk more and direct my teammates towards the spaces.

“I can’t just take the ball and run when I’m man-marked constantly. I could egotistically try to keep the ball anyway, but it’s better for the team if I spread the play and find those who have spaces.”

-Jorginho; source: RAI Sport via talkSport

Poland were happy to give up possession, which isn’t a new wrinkle facing Jorginho, but they also made to sure always put a body on him. This isn’t necessarily an earth-shattering idea either — it was the way to defend against Andrea Pirlo as well, for example — but the combined effect of Piotr Zielinski dropping and Mateusz Klich stepping nullified much of what Jorginho tried to do. It was Klich who won the ball for the goal. Meanwhile the fact that Zielinski played with Jorginho for the previous two seasons at Napoli, and had been indoctrinated in Sarri-ball for a season at Empoli as well, shouldn’t be overlooked either. He certainly knew which way the Jorginho cookie crumbles.

So, stick a man on Jorginho and profit, right? One imagines that Neil Warnock at next Saturday’s opponents Cardiff City is paying attention at least.

While no tactical setup is foolproof — and Chelsea are hardly executing Sarri’s ideas to perfection just yet — part of what complicated matters for Italy were the quality of Jorginho’s teammates, or lack thereof. Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini hinted at as much in his post-match assessment as well, highlighting that the Chelsea man (whom he called one of the best in the world before teh game) performed much better in the second half when “the whole team” also managed to perform better as well.

Jorginho’s numbers also reflect his growing influence, adding 45 touches and 40 attempted passes (third most in either category for the second 45). Those numbers are still not his usual Chelsea-level, but certainly an improvement on the first half. If you’ve never Jorginho complete less than 90 per cent of his passes, find a replay of this game.

Jorginho’s biggest strength is his passing, but that’s something that by definition he cannot execute just by himself. He needs someone to pass to. He needs the team to make the right movements around him, especially when he’s being followed around by a dedicated marker. He can open up space in that case and draw the opposition players to him, but his teammates then have to take advantage.

Perhaps Italy could’ve done that better if they had Marco Verratti, who’s been out with a thigh injury since March, or Claudio Marchisio, for whom there is no room these days in the young and fresh national team. Jorginho was paired with Lorenzo Pellegrini, who was substituted at the half, and Roberto Gagliardini — combined, those two had as many caps coming in as Jorginho, and he himself was only on 8!

Should a similar situation arise at Chelsea — and at this point, we should certainly be expecting teams to attempt this fairly obvious tactical ploy — the onus will be on Mateo Kovačić, N’Golo Kanté, Ross Barkley, Cesc Fàbregas, and all the others to pick up the slack. Those names certainly should be capable of doing that.