Jorginho has been the most divisive Chelsea player of recent history.
There’s a postulate that the defensive side of his game doesn’t matter so much, relying on its counteract that he is specifically good in possession. This is what we’re going to tackle here (no pun intended), by breaking down whether Jorginho is actually so brilliant in possession that it would make up for everything else he can’t or isn’t supposed to do otherwise.
We will break down his performance in the narrow win over Norwich City, focusing on his off the ball movement and its direct implications on Chelsea’s build up play.
What is a Jorginho?
Jorginho was initially brought in by Maurizio Sarri because he knew the former Napoli manager’s circuit playbook by heart — as opposed to, say, for reasons of sheer footballing ability, considering that Cesc Fàbregas was still a Chelsea player at that time. This season, he has found himself playing in a more fluid and attacking minded system under Frank Lampard. The breakdown of Jorginho’s first season can be found here.
Jorginho is a “deep lying playmaker” (DLP), which is one of the oldest tricks in a football coach’s hat. Play someone (usually with experience) with vision to pick out passes and “control the game” from his own half, because he lacks (or lost) the speed of execution that once made him a threat further forward. Lower leagues are full of former top flight players on one last gig before retirement, playing a role akin to the “king of the park”.
Therefore, a DLP’s job isn’t specifically to break down attacks or win duels even if he’s in a zone where he’s supposed to be involved at some point, to screen his defense and prevent defenders to having to step up themselves (and be drawn into duels, out of position, or commit fouls).
Jorginho’s defensive shortcomings have been rather obvious in the fast-paced English Premier League. Despite a decent ability to cut short passes in front of him (and cover ground, albeit only in first gear), everything else he’s involved in from a defensive point of view faces two obstacles.
- He’s obviously worked hard on reading triggers (who and when to press) and on defensive positioning “by the book”. But he still hasn’t got that semi-instinctive quick thinking to sense danger that more naturally talented defensive players have.
- He lacks raw athletic ability, in terms of pace (speed), explosiveness (ability to turn pace and explode – a car’s start and stop feature) and strength to stay on his feet (when challenged in a 50/50).
The fact that his decision making isn’t very quick, hampered by his inability to cover ground quickly has been exposed at the highest level. Mohamed Salah’s goal last season proved a good example of that, highlighting the tight margins and the importance of good footwork, quick thinking and ability to throw the body on the line to prevent what was inevitable without any kind of defensive pressure on the shooter.
The focus here isn’t to break down Jorginho’s defensive game, though it must be stated that for nearly twice what it cost Chelsea to acquire N’Golo Kanté (€60m vs. €30m, roughly), Jorginho’s defensive input and the associated return on investment has been very underwhelming.
Throughout his career Cesc Fàbregas was often been criticized for his defensive input but it was never as bad as portrayed. Not only was his positioning often spot on — specifically: to cover for the other central midfielder in Matić, or help out his fullback to double up on the opposition’s winger — he was never worse than his frame would’ve suggested in terms of getting stuck in to get the ball back. It’s always important to keep in mind that Wenger trusted him before the age of 20 in a midfield two, and that he won the Premier League in a double pivot with Matić under none other than the 4-3-3 midfield powerhouse bigs and talls aficionado José Mourinho.
And, obviously, Fàbregas’ track record of of 111 assists and 50 goals in 350 Premier League games made him an unquestionable asset to unlock every type of defense. Antonio Conte, married to his system, wasn’t blind to this either.
Point is, for every supposed shortcoming Fàbregas had off the ball to stop goals, the balance almost always tipped in favor of his contribution to create ones at the other end.
So, back to Jorginho and the postulate that the defensive side of his game wouldn’t matter so much is he could counteract that by being specifically good in possession.
What is a good base midfield?
In a midfield triangle that features one deep midfielder and two more advanced ones (4-3-3, diamond, 5-3-2…) the role of the base midfield is frequently seen as:
- A “destroyer” whose job is to act as an extra defender, clear, head and block everything going his way and get the ball back through interceptions or tackles. They’re usually tasked with “playing it safe”. This is Fernandinho, Steven Nzonzi or our own Mikel John Obi.
- A “box-to-box” midfielder who creates by feeding the forward line directly. Usually, these players are tasked with finding the furthest player forward over the top straight on turnover. Charlie Adam at Blackpool or Stoke City was a good example of this but Nemanja Matić, when he came back at Chelsea, had that, too (4 assists in half a season).
- A “deep-lying” type midfielder who finds good angles behind two more attacking minded players. He’s also in charge of controlling the tempo of the game, when to slow down the build up and when to turn pace. Mikel Arteta at Arsenal was a very good example of this, or Deco under Ancelotti in 2009/10.
Those are general features. Jorginho would fit in the third category.
Let’s dig a little bit deeper in terms of individual actions that make it possible.
Looking for space
N’Golo Kanté, like most top midfielders, is expert at getting behind people to show for the ball unmarked. In the following video, he really makes Daniel Sturridge stand on his toes by forcing him to check two different bits of information at once.
The base midfield position is such that there’s a lot of space to show for the ball, but the risk of losing ball is too big to do anything half-heartedly. That’s the reason teams often stick someone on the opposition midfielder who shows for the ball — whether that’s someone fixed (Jorginho last season), or whether that’s the various tips of the midfield triangle as someone different drops to pick the ball up.
Space in football only exists where the opponent isn’t. In order to create that space, the player without the ball (one of the forwards, usually) must be drawn into having to decide whether to go for the ball or go for the player and makr him out of the game.
In that regard, good midfielders are able to detach themselves from the flow of ball circulation. If the ball goes from left to right, they’re going to move in the opposite direction in order to be able to show for the ball in midfield once the ball reached the right side of the pitch. Doing so, they’re getting on the opposing players’ blind side to then are able to show up at will.
The most important thing to look for in the following Kanté clip is how he starts, stops and slaloms to trick Sturridge, before popping up just behind him once the former Chelsea striker switches off.
On the other hand, ball-watching reduces the complexity for the team without the ball, who can then track both the ball and the base midfielder in the same field of vision. One of the first things players are taught is to get away from the ball carrier in order to create a 2-v-1.
Showing for the ball too close to the ball carrier is only the start of a pile up of mistakes that will go from not progressing the ball in any purposeful way and being forced into a passback, to being in a poor position to receive the ball (usually facing one’s own goal) and ending up giving it away.
Just like stacking books in plastic covers on a messy desk, the whole structure is more likely to crumble once you’ve added one book too many, even if it might not look too precarious early on. On the pitch, the sixth or seventh consecutive pass played without a purpose in a team’s own half might be the one leading to an ill-timed eighth square pass into traffic and the much-dreaded turnover twenty yards from goal.
There are two ways of finding separation for midfielders:
- The long option is to go for a run-around the pitch somewhere, drag bodies far from their starting positions and gamble on their lack of defensive discipline to get back in position, to show up where they started. This involves changes of direction, but not necessarily speed. But it might require a couple of passes before it generates the right situation to show for the ball with a purpose. Fàbregas was good at this.
- The short option is to leave the defender’s field of vision for a much shorter span, then suddenly turn pace and show for the ball. This involves not only a change of direction but also explosiveness to find separation on a couple of yards. Frank Lampard was, like in most things, absurdly consistent at it.
In any case, compressing the space in front of the ball carrier is never really good because it takes away one option (instead of having a ball carrier and a free man to monitor, everyone is packed in the same area), and brings more bodies into an already tight space. The only other option left then is to bypass it with direct play or a switch of play.
Receiving the ball
In the next clip, Kanté’s movement is textbook for the preparatory work required to get the ball into the other half. Kanté goes in 7 different directions using every different running technique available, including running Pogba crazy, before he can chip delicately the ball into Hazard’s path.
Opening up the body to receive the ball is extremely important, in order to play forward as frequently as possible. Midfielders are usually taught to show for the ball with their back to the nearest touchline, coupled with having their first touch on the back foot — the half turn. Mateo Kovačić and Ross Barkley are experts at finding separation in order to do just that.
Playing backwards under no pressure is never anything to encourage, because it’s merely an opportunity missed to progress the ball.
Premier League teams rarely sit on the fence when it comes to pressing. They either sit in very organized defensive blocks (with a spectrum going from zonal, like Chris Hughton or Roy Hodgson’s teams, to classic man marking, like Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock’s) or they’re running straight at the opponent including the goalkeeper.
In that regard, teams who decide to set a line of engagement above the center circle aren’t going to be baited by a couple of five-yarders (which will simply annoy everyone in attendance). Premier League pressing is rarely built as a chess game, where each unit would move forward in a disciplined fashion, advancing strategically yard-by-yard.
On the other hand, getting too clever might lead the other team to run straight at you. The lenient refereeing coupled with strikers’ determination to hunt down goalkeepers until they clear the ball into the stands makes this an endemic specificity in the Premier League (compared to more “continental” football). Beating the press happens but is more likely to rely on individual ball-carrying actions and being halted by tactical fouling, than quick one touch circuits that are usually quickly picked up by opposing teams who get in the way — as Antonio Conte found out in 2017.
The main difference between a team coached through an endless repetition of circuits, and one handing out more positional freedom is that the base framework isn’t the same. (I should note that neither is “better” than the other; they’re just a different ways to implementation, and therefore pose a different set of problems to deal with throughout the season.)
In the case of the former, the team is set up so only a set of planned situations is due to occur. Antonio Conte’s Chelsea were extremely complete in that regard, providing players with an exhaustive set of positions and “circuits” to play out short, long or use diagonals. Sarri’s Chelsea were a little less elaborate in that regard, focusing on fewer circuits that subsequently got picked up and figured out by opponents way before Antonio Conte’s.
Using circuits, there are meant to be virtually no “chaotic” situations, with the team almost always playing the ball back to the goalkeeper to “re-set” the movement and start over from a blank slate. In final third (for high recoveries), the center forward acts a key reference point that is almost mandatory to be found into feet to bring others into play with wall passes — hence Conte’s reliance on players like Fernando Llorente, Diego Costa, Graziano Pellè (Euro 2016), Olivier Giroud, and Sarri’s wish to be reunited with Gonzalo Higuaín.
On the other hand, Frank Lampard has set up his team with much more positional freedom, meaning there’s no such thing as defined circuits to play the ball out. This approach of coaching puts a lot more emphasis on individual players’ decision-making and identifying how and when to create triangles around the ball carrier.
On the plus side, this makes the game more unpredictable for the opponent (whilst being a very good way to improve younger players). On the negative side, without being extremely clear about the way the team is supposed to be playing the ball out, this can lead to an unnecessary accumulation of passes in a zone. Too many redundant passes in a given area lead to fewer players roaming between the lines, giving fewer things for the opposition to monitor.
One thing that has been enjoyable under Frank Lampard has been the freedom granted to his attacking 8s. Kanté, Kovačić, Barkley, Mount and Loftus-Cheek have all displayed a wide variety of movement: from showing to feet in the half turn between the lines, to running in behind, also arriving late in the box, taking on the defensive line with the ball or linking up with fullbacks in corners of the pitch. This has been entertaining going forward… as long as the ball ends up in the box
Hide intent and play under pressure
This skillset is down to individual ability and allows the team to use the full spectrum of options mentioned previously.
If the technical execution isn’t great — due to either technical (passing technique) or physical (passing power) shortcomings — it produces the opposite effect to what is required. Instead of moving the ball quicker than the opposition, if the ball moves at the same pace as the other team sliding across in defensive shape, this subsequently acts as a pressing trigger for the other team who will then close down the receiver at the end of the chain — usually Azpilicueta who then chips a ball into the corner for Willian to chase; Alonso is more adept at drawing a foul by falling over the ball.
A poorly weighted pass is a genuine tempo killer. Pedestrian possession is increasingly easy for modern teams to control, resulting in those 70/30% possession snooze-fests that were not so frequent a couple of years ago, and Chelsea have been producing a few of those for two seasons now.
Of course, disguising passes is what makes midfielders special. Nemanja Matić’s no-look pass is probably one of the best the Premier League has seen for a decade, because his whole body can face one direction while actually playing in another direction.
If a player doesn’t have the ability to shield the ball and hold it under pressure, they’re going to be tempted to show for the ball in areas in which they know they won’t be closed down: deep wide or between central defenders. And if they do find themselves between opponents, the reliance on playing the ball first time like on the pinball machine is sometimes more of an admission of failure than a clear intent to release a free player.
There’s a sensible nuance between dwelling on the ball slowing down the tempo with multiples touches of the ball and baiting the opponent to draw him in and break the defensive structure. Ultimately, the way the ball is struck is key. Bad passes are bad passes, so Jacques de La Palice would say. Not every poorly weighted pass has to be described as a “clear intent to invite the other team to press”.
Less than a decade ago, it wasn’t a good idea to play with sore feet when John Terry played Mikel then Lampard or Ballack, given the way they smashed the ball.
Jorginho ball watching in the direction of the ball
So now, having established what makes a good base midfielder, back to Jorginho, and specifically his performance against Norwich City, in Chelsea’s 1-0 win.
The thing that catches the eye with Jorginho is how basic his range of movement is. Not gifted with any notable turn of pace or speed (albeit good stamina to run around), he’s not proving much of a threat for attackers when they defend against him. You’ll usually find him jogging in the same direction as the ball, which is incidentally the same path the most opposition strikers take. They’re not even troubled with having to check in case Jorginho moves in the opposing direction.
- 3min: Jorginho is ball watching, and his range of movement is extremely basic and one-paced, easy to monitor — until the very end of the first sequence where a turn finally sets him free. Zouma explores other options after playing the ball back and forth with Rüdiger
- 8min: He’s not causing any sort of trouble to Drmić by moving in the same direction as the ball. Play finally progresses when Jorginho stops ball watching at 8:42 and Zouma takes matters into his own hands by feeding players in front of him.
- 11min: when Rüdiger finally has room to attack space with the ball, Jorginho gets in the way and realizes it a tad too late. His two consecutive pedestrian movements are drawing two players with him and aren’t really releasing anyone else. The pass he gets from Zouma is obvious, that’s why Rüdiger isn’t taking it.
- 73min: following the flow of the ball isn’t helping at all to get into the game, and not proving very difficult to track either.
At best, moving in the same direction as the ball (and subsequently as the other team in their defensive shape), marginally contributes to focusing attention on one side of the pitch like a vessel’s rolling. But more often than not, this just makes Jorginho impossible to reach because he’s not causing any sort of trouble for strikers who thus mark him out of the game on a weekly basis.
There’s such a stark contrast between reports that “Jorginho dictates the pace of the the game” and the simple observation that, most of the time, he’s simply unreachable in the first place. Can a player’s influence really be based on things he doesn’t do?
- 12min: this sequence has been a characteristic feature of the way Chelsea have been playing this season. Jorginho spends the entire sequence not being reachable even a single time because he doesn’t leave Drmić’s shadow.
- 20min: at this point, and taking into account what we mentioned before, his range of movement is puzzling at best, almost like he’s man-marking Drmić out of the game and not the other way round. At 21min, Jorginho switches off like he tends to do and disconnects from what is happening before his eyes. This is why he doesn’t take advantage of the pocket of space Willian plays the ball back into. A short “hook” run to receive on the back foot wasn’t out of reach (see Kanté’s last movement for Hazard against United).
- 35min: Plastering himself into Norwich’s defensive shape isn’t helping Rüdiger — on the contrary, it just brings on more Norwich player that needs to be bypassed and takes away any kind of protection for the second ball of any subsequent clearance.
- 65min: Jorginho’s involvement looks on and off at this point, with a turn of pace going from walking to jogging towards the ball, almost looking out of breath. His final involvement in the sequence is not doing himself any favors. The option of feeding Kovačić in two touches should been just a simple turn on the back foot (left foot). And requiring 4 touches to find an option and end up playing one of the worst cross-field passes of the game (which is logged as a completed one…) is quite striking at this level, to say the least.
- 71min: The reason why Jorginho is unreachable most of the time also lies in the fact that he’s rarely checking his shoulder to the level Chelsea midfielders’ did over the years. Lampard or Fàbregas were literal spinning tops. Jorginho checks once at 71:32 but other than that, is focused only on the ball in the entire sequence.
“Sarriball” was a circuit-based playbook supposed to help find space in pure zonal defences defending by the book (commonly used in Serie A). One of its feature was a “line breaking pass” from central defender to an 8, with a layoff for Jorginho who could then face forward in the centre circle. There are no such clean intervals between midfield players in the Premier League, considering how teams match up in midfield (meaning they man-mark roaming 8s).
Most of the time Kovačić, Barkley or Loftus-Cheek will muscle off their way on the turn to get forward. This is what makes them special players.
Splitting the midfield is possible, but a long deck pass from central defender to striker is going to prove difficult even for Harry Kane or Olivier Giroud (and Tammy Abraham).
That being said, Zouma and Rüdiger are far from ineffective on the ball with their range of passing, as shown with their ability to find short angles (on the correct feet of the receiver) or smash a quality diagonal.
In that regard, Jorginho playing hide and seek with forwards in hope for a return layoff from an 8 just doesn’t happen as often as he’s doing that. Because when 8s are fed, they will try to get on the turn anyway.
Ultimately, Jorginho’s inability to find separation puts extra responsibility on players at the back to move the ball. Which raises the question of the point of having a “deep lying playmaker” who turns out to act as a make way for central defenders most of the time.
Jorginho congests space in front of the ball carrier
Considering Jorginho’s lack of availability in the early build up, he also tends to congest the space available for central defenders to progress on the ball by bringing more bodies in their way.
- 48min: Consecutive back passes would require base midfield players to go the other way round and split the two forwards pressing (by backtracking towards the center circle), instead of compressing the space Kepa gets. When Zouma receives it, Drmić’s task is an easy two-in-one because Jorginho conveniently moves in the same direction to his pressing run to close down Zouma who can’t play forwards. Playing the ball back from where it came to Rüdiger (instead of Kepa who’s in position to swich play) only forces Rüdiger to launch it forward.
The real question here would be whether Jorginho thought bouncing it off to Rüdiger (with a slow-paced square pass) was a good idea or that he didn’t check for other options.
- 1min: Bringing bodies in front of central defenders when they’re in possession is only going to reduce their playable options. The central defender to fullback is textbook for ambush early in the game, passing it back to the goalkeeper is going to kill the tempo already. Only the speculative switch is possible.
It turns out that when Jorginho isn’t hidden behind defenders, he has the tendency to bring bodies in front of the ball carrier with his usual one-paced running. Rarely blocks or changes direction, let alone changing pace, meaning he often arrives way to early (and being monitored by opposition players) to show for the ball. Somehow few Chelsea defenders wave him away like Jorginho keeps instructing others (mostly Christensen right now).
Jorginho screens passes for other players
The thing with ball watching is that it makes it difficult to coordinate with other players, unless you’re the “reference point” around whom everyone is supposed to adjust his positioning.
- 18min: Jorginho’s lack of synchronicity with Loftus-Cheek is noticeable. It’s less about them having shared very few minutes together on the pitch, and more about checking about the space, who fills it, and the pass ahead. The first layoff Jorginho gets from Loftus Cheek almost hits him by surprise, meaning he didn’t turn in order to receive on the backfoot with the game ahead, hence the lame square pass to Azpilicueta. In the aftermath and before Rüdiger looks further forward, Jorginho screens Loftus-Cheek, however well positioned in the full (not half) space between Norwich’s Hernandez and McLean
13min: congesting Kovačić’s space makes very little sense, all the more because he’s not checking once on . Luckily, Loftus-Cheek thinks one step ahead and fills the third midfield spot (simple midfield rotation — which Sarri prevented his midfield three of doing for some reason last season).
Jorginho ends up out of his comfort zone, screening Willian, facing his own touchline. Just after that, he ends up running in behind, stepping over the fine line between what players can do, and what is actually going to give their team an edge (think of Ramires, Essien or Ballack darting runs to cross).
It’s not really fair to judge Lampard on his use of Jorginho, considering that he was more or less forced to field him in the only position he could whilst Kanté and Loftus-Cheek were out injured. And couldn’t turn him into a racehorse anyway (he’s a football coach, not a magician).
For someone whose reputation is built first and foremost on what he isn’t supposed to do, Jorginho sure isn’t doing a lot of basics right to help keep his team’s build up fluid —obstructing options because he’s not checking being one of them.
Jorginho isn’t facing forward when receiving
The reason why Chelsea players frequently consider other options than Jorginho is simply that he’s frequently not facing the game. They stopped being instructed to play him as often as possible: Chelsea playing 7% fewer passes than last season (612 for 659 last season), but Jorginho’s involvement dropped 14% from 84 to 72 passes this season.
- 4min: just four minutes into the game there’s no good reason not to check the shoulder once, not find a good place to show for the ball or not strolling past in the center circle whilst other players raise the tempo of the game.
- 25min: Jorginho often evades pressure instead of inviting it, and it is a stark contrast to compare with players like Deco, Lampard or Ballack who’d always chin up and face the game thanks to their excellent two-touch play — instead of playing that kind of obvious square pass with no pace in it (the ball rolls on the pitch, we’ll get to that later).
- 18min: There’s also no reason to re-set the buildup, it’s not even twenty minutes in against the worst team in the League in a must-win game. Jorginho has been doing that frequently in the past two seasons.
Playing the ball back when being closed down instead of turning to retain it makes sense (even if not showing up on the half turn in the first place is always questionable).
Playing it back under no pressure is the kind of situation that makes Jorginho look like a misfit at this level. Pass completion percentage is of little use when something is logged as a completed pass, yet from a qualitative point of view, it makes no sense.
Jorginho creates pointless extra overloads
Creating an overload to build up play helps to create bigger distances and spread out the attackers’ pressing. Since the turn of the millennium, we have seen the rise of “ball-playing goalkeepers” who can create a 3v2 against two forwards who press.
Against one single forward, two center backs can occasionally use the help of a goalkeeper but pass matrix tables usually shows center backs exchanges as the the most frequent passing combination (between 15 and 30 passes exchanged per game). The era of center backs who could barely pass water is well and truly gone for top clubs.
It is an understatement to suggest that Chelsea did not require 3 outfielders and a goalkeeper to bypass the lone Norwich striker pressing. That said, Jorginho was creating a three-man backline pretty much all evening — the issue with that being that for the sake of maintaining good distances between players, it pretty much held everyone back a good twelve yards with Loftus-Cheek and Kovačić forced to drop much deeper to get within Jorginho’s already unimpressive passing radius.
Building up through the thirds is like a relay going up to the roof in a building with different floors. If everyone is stuffing himself with free candy at the desk on the ground floor, everyone else is forced to drop down one level to be reachable and at the end of the day Tammy Abraham gets blamed for receiving no service.
- 3min: because Jorginho dwells on the ball and drops even deeper, there’s no one to occupy the space between Norwich’s midfield and the estranged Drmić. Subsequently, Loftus-Cheek who was looking for space between midfielders and defenders, is forced to drop deeper to be available for a pass.
- 9min: Jorginho sitting between the two defenders is quite unnecessary, considering they’re perfectly able to chip the ball over a single lone striker… which they end up doing anyway. In the follow-up, the extra man at the back becomes one less body in the other half. Oscar used to be key to unlocking defensive blocks because he kept receiving between players and linked up with Costa and Hazard to create overloads when it did matter.
- 10min: Jorginho is made redundant by Kepa playing a simple pass and stays in position like someone caught crossing the street on a red light and politely waiting for cars to pass by before reaching the other side (after all, Chelsea are 4 against 1 here). Two midfielders dropping in front of Norwich’s midfield line brings Willian inside and pushes Azpilicueta forward. But still takes away one option behind Norwich’s midfield line (which could be Loftus Cheek if Jorginho filled a more appropriate zone)
- 28min: Kurt Zouma’s reaction sums up the whole situation. Jorginho dropping in a dead zone forces Willian to drop like as if he were an 8.
- 32min: Jorginho requiring no fewere than five touches to play a ten yarder is a definite tempo killer. It’s difficult to understand why and how he’s not filling the immense area between Drmić and the midfield line, forcing Kovačić once again to drop in front of the midfield line.
- 69min: Rüdiger is showing for the ball, holding onto the hope Jorginho could pass the ball beyond the half width of the pitch without the grass slowing it down too much. Because Jon Moss holds a better positioning than Jorginho (but is unlikely to pass the ball to Barkley if he receives it), Barkley climbs down one floor below (which isolates Azpilicueta on the far side if ever he could flick the ball inside).
Jorginho can’t receive under pressure
The line between receiving the ball under pressure in and around the center circle and treating it like a hot potato by bouncing it first time to the nearest player isn’t very thick. Players like Barkley or Kovačić are expert at receiving it in packed areas because their ball mastery is good (first touch and close control) and they can actually burst away from markers.
- 26min: the difference between Kovačić and Jorginho is stark to turn pace, keep the ball under control and find an angle to release it. Granted, Zouma’s pass isn’t the best pass he played all season, but Jorginho, facing his own goal, makes an absolute meal of it and gives it away. His close control isn’t great, and his turn of pace is nonexistent even if he did attempt to get away. Drawing a foul isn’t beyond the talented base midfield’s skillset. One had to grapple down Mikel to make him fall on the floor, but he still knew how to tangle a leg to draw a foul (and grab the ball before the whistle).
- 53min: Jorginho’s first touch is a big letdown, being caught cheaply like that is something you could forgive a fresh faced 18-year-old Billy Gilmour for doing, but not a soon to be 29-year-old midfielder brought on a record fee with a set of excuses and a list of other people to blame for his own shortcomings.
Jorginho’s one-footedness and predictability
Few players are gifted with pure two footedness (albeit our own Fikayo Tomori isn’t faring too badly on that aspect — it takes a while for anyone who doesn’t know him to figure out which foot is his stronger one). But at the other end of the spectrum, pure one-footed players (usually left footers) better have a wand of a strong foot to be able to pick out players on the far side of the pitch if they don’t want to be shut down.
Jorginho’s struggles don’t only start up there, but frequently for rather simple tasks such as playing a player on his left especially when he’s closed down on his right side (which makes difficult to both shield the ball and pass it with the right leg). This gives the kind of awkward turns he does here, to play the ball back instead of releasing Alonso.
Jorginho’s technique far from flawless
When Chelsea signed Mateo Kovačić, we knew we signed one of the absolute best technicians in Europe in terms of pure ball mastery. It was more about figuring out how to unlock his ability in final third, by scoring more goals. Ross Barkley’s decision-making is head scratching at times, but few can doubt his first-touch and ball-striking technique.
The thing with Jorginho is that his range of movement already causes more issues to his team’s build up, than it really opens up options. And whenever he receives the ball, his first touch is simply not good enough compared to every midfielder Chelsea have been fielding in the past ten or fifteen years.
This has been a recurrent issue for two seasons and simply cannot be allowed to happen half a dozen times in a Premier League game. The number of times Jorginho uses the same foot to control and then pass is probably not something to show in football academies, especially given the time he’s wasting doing so (that he can’t catch up by any other mean).
In terms of striking the ball to pass it, his technique is poor, which at best slows down the tempo to a pedestrian pace (it’s very easy to sort out laser passes from poorly hit passes, because for the latter, the ball rolls on the pitch and loses momentum midway through), and at worst, proves to be a pain to control or simply an invitation to get clattered.
It takes some nerve to claim the pass at 19min is a “goalscoring chance” considering how the ball floats in the air with no pace on it, before crashing on the defender’s forehead.
The chip at 15min is as bad as one can play in that situation, the technique and body balance are horrendous, and is proves more dangerous for his own teammate than it does to the opposition.
Is Jorginho slowing Chelsea down ?
It is pointless to get drawn into a deadend argument of “can’t you see it because I can” that directs most discussion in football. Breaking down Jorginho’s actual attacking output when Chelsea do have possession and going beyond the numbers (that can make any player look good depending on the metric used) gives a picture is not exactly in line with the narrative that Jorginho does everything right trying to link up “unreliable defenders who can’t pass” with “midfielders who run around aimlessly”.
That is not to say Jorginho is a poor player, or that he isn’t trying his best. The issue precisely is that he’s doing his best and yet that’s still well below par.
He’s a player with a clear and solid ceiling, whose output is much closer to role players like Oriol Romeu — whose numbers from 2011/12 are barely different from Jorginho’s from the past two seasons — or Lucas Leiva, who were brought in for a couple million with little expectations other than doing a simple job in front of the back four (and who left for mid-table clubs without a fuss after failing to cement a place for Chelsea or Liverpool — though I’m being a bit harsh on Lucas Leiva).
Some of the shortcomings (“features”) of Jorginho’s game make him one of the oddest players to have played for a top team in Europe for a decade. That each of his outings are still accompanied by a deluge of excuses makes the whole situation rather awkward, possibly to justify a transfer fee Chelsea will likely never recoup.
It’s rare to see players with such a limited athletic profile. Those who manage to feature in the top leagues are usually gifted with an exceptional ability to move, see or execute things other players can only dream of.
Juan Mata has played for Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League since 2011, and has won a lot of trophies along the way (including for his natioanl team). He’s far from an exceptional athlete when it comes to raw pace (unlike, say, Pedro Rodriguez) or muscling off opponents by shielding the ball under pressure (unlike, say, David Silva), but the timing of his movement, to find pockets of space, find separation with short bursts of pace, arriving late into the box and even running in behind, are all absolutely excellent. And of course, Mata’s left-foot deliveries from open play are more dangerous than that most players could do from a set piece situation. He’s a player who was worth adjusting the team for his shortcomings on the basis on how frequently he could unlock a game in the Premier League.
For Jorginho, his shortcomings don’t only show up for things he does with the ball — his return of two assists in two full seasons is a fair reflection of his poor first touch and average ball striking technique for anyone willing to pay close attention. The trouble often start before he even gets possession.
He is just as much of a burden when the team is playing out, for how frequently he’s not providing an option, or is actively obstructing options, than other factors brought into discussion such as Zouma or Rüdiger’s alleged lack of “ballplaying skills” or Kovačić and Barkley’s “disappointing end product”.
Not being gifted with athletic traits such as a turn of pace should have been made up for by an immaculate ability to find separation and bring others into play with clever movement. Jorginho’s movement one year on from Sarri’s departure looks exactly the same: rehearsing the same set patterns and circuits but watered down and not really taking into account the fact that every other player isn’t asked to stick by something like that anymore.
The idea that he’s a leeway to “let the defenders progress with the ball” is quite fallacious as well, considering he offers close to nothing more than what virtually anyone else could offer in that position, let alone someone brought in for €60 million who also turns out to be a massive defensive liability.
His inability to find real chemistry with anyone in defense and midfield (apart from Kovačić who makes anyone look good beside him) is all the more striking given that he had been the default starter almost 100 times in the last two years for the club.
Jorginho and Chelsea are probably going to part ways over the summer.
The first challenge will be to find a way out for the fifth biggest transfer in the club’s history. After two underwhelming seasons, any interested club will have a clear indication of the money required to get Jorginho, just as much as a picture of everything he can’t do.
Antonio Conte left after leading the team to 70 points in the League, Chelsea reached 72 points last season with a nearly identical W-L-D, goals for and against record. In case Chelsea win the two remaining two games, we’d reach 69 points in a turbulent and unique season.
No longer under a transfer ban and with money to burn, Chelsea should have a good opportunity to redesign the squad and move on from some of the default team selections in midfield. And that should include Jorginho, who needed three midfielders to get injured before collecting any minutes since the Restart.
It is unlikely Jorginho will still be part of the midfield equation next season, considering how his attacking input isn’t much of an offset to his defensive shortcomings.
Sébastien Chapuis is now a full-time professional coach in French U19 National League for Stade Lavallois. I’ve also analysed Premier League football on television for RMC Sport and Canal+ since 2013. You can send written disagreement on @SebC__ on Twitter.