According to Opta, Chelsea holding Manchester City to 46.7% possession was the lowest total of any Pep Guardiola team in a first-division match. That’s a career spanning three clubs (two of the biggest in football), three countries, and more than a decade’s time. Under normal circumstances, feeling good about a possession statistic is silly and ultimately means nothing, but if there is to be an anomaly, this would be it.
46.74 - Man City's possession figure of 46.74 today is the lowest recorded by a side managed by Pep Guardiola in any of his 381 top-flight matches in charge. Academic. #MCICHE— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 23, 2019
Of course one could argue that the suspension of slick-dribbling Bernardo Silva had a lot to do with that, but no one should be in the business of making excuses for Manchester City, who still featured an absurd amount of talented footballers, plus John Stones.
But an even bigger, and surely the primary reason is that Chelsea were finally able to deploy our strongest midfield. N’Golo Kanté roamed and destroyed while also making forward runs (and scoring), Mateo Kovačić was stationed deeper to be an outlet out of the press and to move the ball up the pitch by dribbling or making sensible passes (and assisting), while Jorginho only had his center-backs and the goalkeeper behind him as he surveyed the bodies ahead of him and picked passes. It all worked quite well to bother Manchester City, Pep Guardiola, and the City faithful — and it might’ve hurt them more if Jorginho were only slightly better.
Jorginho’s job on the pitch is a difficult one, full stop. And against a team like City who are experts at positioning to cut off passing lanes and harrying their opposition into quick decisions, it is ratcheted up to a near impossible level. Jorginho coped with it all while racking up 87 touches and 91% pass accuracy, a feat even more impressive given how much pressure he was frequently under as the primary outlet in our own half. But he also lost possession 8 times and two of his intercepted passes sprung City forward for their only two goals. (Stats via Sofascore.)
Such as it is to be Jorginho.
It was evident how much of a loss he was when he was substituted in the 74th minute for Mason Mount, and City immediately enjoyed their most comfortable period defending all match. The fineness of the margins are such that had Jorginho been slightly better, Chelsea might have drawn or even won; had he been worse — or someone else entirely — the match might have resembled what happened at the Etihad just nine months ago.
The difference in midfield from that drab day was Mateo Kovačić instead of Ross Barkley. The former Real Madrid man had an incredible game — 5/5 dribbles completed, 94% pass accuracy, 4 tackles, 2 interceptions (stats via Sofascore) — and his connection with Jorginho was the springboard. According to match plots from Between The Posts, the passing link between the pair was Chelsea’s most frequent.
“There is always one thing in your lifetime that hasn’t happened. So, OK, I have another record, I won one game without possession. They are incredible team with Kanté, Kovačić, Jorginho, so it can happen.”
-Pep Guardiola; source: Telegraph
While Kovačić deserves a lot of praise for his performance (and, as of late, performances), Jorginho’s role in releasing the ball to him with time and space, and against City’s pressure, should not be overlooked.
Still, all it took for City to get the two goals they needed was a couple ill-timed passes from Jorginho to Tammy Abraham — one from about five yards away, and the other an extremely hopeful thirty-yard through ball attempt. Under normal circumstances, and against lesser teams these errors might not have been punished as harshly. In fact Mahrez’s winner might have been stopped entirely if Emerson had considered defending, or if Reece James had been on and Azpilicueta had already been flipped to left-back (as it happened in the 59th minute).
But those are unfortunately the margins with which Jorginho has to live nearly every time he is deployed. His ability to facilitate play can largely go unnoticed unless he does the ridiculous, or, the awful. It’s not entirely in the category of a thankless job — there is a bit more glamour to it than there is, say, a solid center-back — but the majority of his effect is going to be in movements off the ball into space, and repetitive accurate passes of ten yards or fewer.
Chelsea are hardly a one-man squad, but in matches against one of Europe’s top teams (if tactics and players are good enough to compete), differences always reveal themselves in sharp relief. Against City it was good work from Jorginho to get Kovačić the ball in position to spot a darting N’Golo Kanté for the 1-0 lead, but it was also two misplaced passes that gave City the two goals it needed to get the three points. Jorginho didn’t play as badly as his errors suggested, but since they were punished most severely, it’s tempting to make them a main takeaway.
How he’s always smiling, I’ll never know.
(Ed.note: maybe he just looks at his shin guard/pads ... awwwwww)