All too often, football players are judged not within context of a team’s tactics or coach’s instructions, but rather just within their own individual perceptions and ideas. Everyone’s an expert! This is why you see hilarious takes, such as a certain Match of the Day host advocating for N’Golo Kanté to play the deep-lying midfielder (“regista”) role instead of Jorginho for Sarri’s Chelsea.
Sarri “Today Jorginho was in trouble and on the bench there wasn’t a player for that position. I need an option for Jorginho.” Great banter from the Chelsea coach as he had the best player in that position in World football on the pitch, @nglkante.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) January 12, 2019
If we actually consider and understand Sarri’s tactics and style — Kanté’s role is to be a box-to-box midfielder, contributing with both defensive cover and attacking impetus, same as Allan would for Sarri’s Napoli — it’s easy to just laugh and shrug this off, because it’s ridiculous, but the anti-Jorginho chatter has now evolved to claim he’s not even good at the role he’s intended to play. It’s like poor-rhetoric-ooze grew some legs and climbed up out of the primordial soup of Twitter to become a new form of bad judgement. We all should have seen it coming (thanks Darwin!) but we didn’t.
The new favorite hot take is that Jorginho doesn’t pass forward. If you’ve been around for a while, it’ll remind you of the Mikel rhetorics of yore. But just as was the case with Mikel (he backheel assists or nutmegs when he wants), such claims are not even remotely accurate.
I decided to sift through the data, to point out some obvious facts.
- Fact #1 — Jorginho does in fact pass forward — 66% of the time, in fact. Of his 1997 total pass attempts in league play this season, 1318 have been “forward”.
- Fact #2 — Jorginho doesn’t just recycle possession — 27.4% of his total passes have targeted the final third.
- Fact #3 — He does make long passes — 50 of them so far, of 72 attempts. A nice 69% rate, his best since 2013-14, when he first moved to Napoli.
- Fact #4 — Jorginho makes forward passes in the final third — Of his 95.1 average pass attempts per match, 24.1 of them are forward passes in the final third. 33.6 of them are forward passes in the middle third.
I made a couple of charts, showing by match some of his passing numbers.
Figure 1 shows Jorginho’s distribution by pitch-thirds, as well as his pass accuracy and his forward pass percentage, by matchweek.
He spends little time passing to the back third, regardless of what people think they see. The only two three matchweeks he had an abnormally high rate of defensive third passing were 7, 14, and 16 (Liverpool, Fulham, Manchester City).
Figure 2 shows raw passing numbers: Total Passes, Total Forward Passes, Middle Third Forward Passes, and Forward Third Forward Passes.
As can be seen, most of what he does is forward passing. But the expectation for him to make 15-20 Hollywood balls a-la Cesc Fàbregas every match is absurd, and has little to do with the tactics of Sarrismo. Jorginho controls possession, attempts to start scoring possession chains, and looks to take advantage of forward runs into space via back and forth vertical passing.
Jorginho and Jorginho’s role in all its passing (including forward!) is crucial to the way Sarri intends his tactics, in which he believes (possibly to a fault), to work. That’s why, now that Fàbregas is gone, Sarri wants a new backup for that position, and that’s why he isn’t going to simply shift Kanté there instead.