Jorginho: The Story in Brief
When Jorge Luiz Frello Filho – better known as Jorginho – first signed for Chelsea in July 2018, fans in general made their approval of the signing known. After all, Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea team would need a conductor, and Jorginho, a much revered veteran of ‘Sarri-Ball’ seemed like the perfect fit.
With a near metronomic ability to slow down match tempo, and undoubted quality in the weight and consistency of his short passing, it was no surprise to see that Jorginho was a near-ever present on the team sheet – only missing one match in the Premier League due to suspension and amassing over 3,000 minutes of playing time. Certainly in the early weeks of Sarri’s reign, when Chelsea were monopolising possession, controlling matches and putting teams to the sword with regular ease, Jorginho was the fulcrum of these performances, recycling the ball and collecting it in his ‘regista’ role to continue controlling the play and choking the life out of the opposition.
However, once teams started to realise this, they began to combat it. More often than not, Jorginho would be closely marshalled by at least one, sometimes two midfielders to close his avenues and stop him passing the ball with the frequency he enjoyed in other games. Just like how a clock can’t seamlessly tick, tick, tick without a battery, shutting down Jorginho under Sarri stunted a lot of Chelsea’s attacking play. But of course, we are in a post-Sarri world now.
Frank Lampard’s return to Chelsea as a manager was expected by some to herald the beginning of the end of Jorginho after just one season in England. Various pundits were convinced the Italian would follow his chain-smoking manager back to Italy to assume a similar role at Juventus. However, with Chelsea under a transfer ban, Jorginho seemingly settled in London and Juventus plumping for more dynamic midfield options in Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot, these rumours swiftly dissipated.
To Jorginho’s credit, he knuckled down and put in solid performances in pre-season, as well as starring alongside N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic in a 4-3-3 during the Supercup against Liverpool. He started the opening 11 Premier League matches (although subbed off against Manchester United and Leicester around the 70′ mark) and looked to be integral to the system. A fantastic performance against Ajax in the Champions League seemed to outline how important he was.
Serving a 1-match ban against Crystal Palace, the Italian returned to the starting line-up for the consecutive losses against Manchester City and West Ham United – captaining the team on the latter, before being used as a very late substitute against Aston Villa. He remained on the bench for the 3-1 loss at Goodison Park – a game where Lampard got his tactics totally wrong. After that match, there was an outcry that Jorginho should have played to help control the midfield, which was overrun quickly.
As is typical of Chelsea under Lampard, the poor form did not end after one game as Jorginho returned to the starting line-up for the loss against Bournemouth, before being used as a substitute again in the victory over Spurs. Another start, another loss – this time to Southampton.
Jorginho’s arguably most impressive performance this season came days later as Chelsea became the first team to beat Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal at the Emirates – the Italian was substituted on in the first half as Lampard shuffled the pack with the team looking completely lost and being choked by Arsenal’s pressing. Jorginho added a calm controlling beat to Chelsea’s play as they worked their way back into the match and eventually took the three points – Jorginho was in the right place to steer home the equaliser from a set-piece that Bernd Leno fumbled.
Once again, the Italian seemed to ensconce himself back into Lampard’s plans, completing the full 90′ for 6 of the next 8 Premier League games. However, the bookings stacked up again and Jorginho got himself suspended for the victory against Everton. In this game, Lampard instead entrusted the defensive midfield mantle to young Billy Gilmour, using N’Golo Kante and Kovacic in the advanced midfield roles. This was arguably Chelsea’s most impressive performance of the season as they completely dominated an Everton side that had caused them a lot of trouble at Goodison Park, with the young Scot at the centre of everything. Notably, Gilmour looked much more mobile in the role than Jorginho and tracked back across the middle third, rather than sticking to the central areas.
Jorginho didn’t feature for four of Chelsea’s games in Project Restart as rumours swirled about his long-term future. The return of N’Golo Kante to the defensive midfield role did seem to stabilise the team at times – his energy and ability to travel between both boxes meant Chelsea were a lot less susceptible to counter-attacks. However, it did mean that at times Chelsea looked less composed in possession as Kante preferred to play simpler passes which sometimes caused additional pressure as the opposition squeezed up the pitch.
Again, an impressive substitute appearance from Jorginho against Crystal Palace reminded fans what he was capable of – he came on at Selhurst Park with the team really struggling to control the game and added much needed calmness for about ten minutes, before the Blues conspired to throw it all away. This was almost the perfect situation for Jorginho to show his best traits – he was able to come on, make space for teammates, offer the simple pass and generally relieve pressure.
However, against Sheffield United he was totally overwhelmed by the work-rate and power of the Blades’ industrious midfield and even against Norwich this week, he looked laboured and laborious in possession, constantly being dispossessed by Tettey and McLean. Although he played 90′ on both occasions, one must feel it was more due to the lack of options that Frank Lampard currently has in that role, rather than faith in Jorginho’s abilities.
Jorginho was sold to Chelsea fans as the conductor of the orchestra, wielding his baton to dictate tempo and control matches in a new possession-oriented style of playing.
His passing statistics reflect kindly on this. According to whoscored.com, he averages 72.4 average passes per Premier League game, as opposed to 60.9 from Mateo Kovacic, 50.7 from N’Golo Kante and 33.8 from Mason Mount. In terms of pass success percentage, the Italian boasts 88.4%, placing him above Mount (85.7%) and Kante (84.9%), but below Kovacic with 89.7%. This data suggests Jorginho passes the ball a lot more than his teammates, but crucially, we don’t get an insight into the style of passes being played. When we examine this, we find that Jorginho tends to attempt more long passes than all of his teammates (weighing in with 4.1 per game on average) but attempts less through-balls than Kovacic. On this data alone, it’s probably fair to suggest Jorginho contributes the most to the possession aspect of Chelsea’s dominance in the majority of matches.
However, possession does not win matches – robust defending and astute attacking is key. Looking at Jorginho’s defensive output: he makes (on average per 90) 2.2 tackles per game and a further 2.1 interceptions. These numbers place him above N’Golo Kante (who scores a round 2 apiece) and far beyond Mateo Kovacic (1.9 tackles and 0.7 interceptions). However, it is worth noting that in the majority of matches, Jorginho has sat much further behind than both Kante and Kovacic (who have been deployed in box-to-box roles in the 4-3-3 with Jorginho sitting in front of the defence) so the difference in stats is perhaps not surprising.
What is more alarming is comparing how often the three are dribbled past. Jorginho allows (on average) for opponents to dribble past him 1.8 times per 90 minutes, whilst Kovacic only yields 1.2 and Kante 0.9. Considering that Jorginho sits deepest of the three, conceding almost two dribbles per match inevitably will lead to the opposition getting at least one clear cut-chance. In terms of preventing those, Jorginho clears the ball 0.9 and blocks 0.2 times, as opposed to Kante with 1.4 and 0.2. The Frenchman certainly has a higher defensive output just on paper. He does, however, concede double the number of fouls (2) compared to Jorginho (0.9) every 90, however, the Italian often commits the more serious fouls, having already amassed 10 Premier League yellow cards. Increasingly, the data is showing that Jorginho is not the atypical defensive midfielder that Chelsea fans are used to, or indeed the kind that thrives in the Premier League.
One of the frequent sticks that pundits (and indeed fans) have used to beat Jorginho with is his lack of offensive contribution. Let’s be clear: the role of a defensive midfielder is not to score a hatful of goals, or create a number of them. Claude Makélélé was arguably the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League and his attacking contribution could be counted on one hand. However, increasingly, there is a need for midfielders to be dynamic, all-action players, rather than just sitting in one role. Looking at Jorginho: 0.4 shots per game, 0.8 key passes and 0.4 dribbles – these numbers seem uninspiring. Compare them to Kante: 0.8 shots per game, 1.2 key passes and 1.1 dribbles, and Kovacic: 0.7 shots per game, 1 key pass and an impressive 2.5 dribbles and again, the numbers reflect better on the Frenchman and the Croatian. However, simply taking these numbers at face value wouldn’t be fair – the latter two have played higher up the pitch for most of the season, and it does not take a genius to tell you Kovacic is an accomplished dribbler. Interestingly, from an offensive perspective, Jorginho is dispossessed less than once per match (0.7), as opposed to 1.3 for Kante and 1.6 for Kovacic.
These numbers show what a lot of us would already expect. Jorginho is a much precise passer than Kante and helps the team dominate possession thanks to his ability to give and receive the ball, but he lacks the ability to really carry the ball up the pitch which means low-blocks can sit in and frustrate Chelsea. Although he attempts more long passes, a number of these are down the channel, rather than incisive moves to carve apart opponents. That said, Kovacic and Kante both do not really possess the skillset to do this either – hence the acquisition of Hakim Ziyech, and potential signing of Kai Havertz this summer.
The Eye Test
I think it is fair to say when Jorginho is good, he is very good and the whole team ticks like clockwork. There are a number of games early in Sarri’s tenure where Jorginho’s metronomic control of the match helped Chelsea simply grind the opponents into submission, constantly tired from chasing the ball. One of the best examples is Southampton away at the Saint Mary’s last year – Jorginho controlled the midfield allowing Kovacic, then Barkley (and also Kante) more free reign to surge forward. Having said that, Southampton did waste several big first half chances, one of which came from Ings pressing Jorginho and forcing him into a mistake.
However, on the flip-side, when Jorginho is off the beat, it certainly affects the rest of team. The Italian’s reputation for being the conductor means that teams will inevitably target him, and when this happens, it usually leads to one of two issues. Either Jorginho starts to dwell on the ball and stops moving it about, which causes the possession to become rigid, one-paced and doesn’t really help to break the lines, or it causes carelessness, as the player will turn into trouble, get dispossessed more often and generally cause Chelsea to experience fast turnovers and counter-attacks more often.
Jorginho feels like the perfect player to bring on when your team are 2-0 up and cruising, to help see out a game. When the opposition are pushing forward in an attempt to get back into the game, space opens up and Jorginho’s ability to manipulate the ball can certainly help spring perfect counter-attacks. Alternatively, he can be a calming influence to slow the game down and regain control, quashing opponent’s attempts to get back into matches. But, Chelsea are very rarely in that sort of position at this moment in time.
It would be churlish to say Jorginho is a terrible footballer outright. At the end of the day, his personal reputation and the fact he is a vital cog in the Italian National Team can dispel any notions that he simply ‘isn’t good enough.’ Certainly, for his calm possession-focused manner, on-pitch leadership and penalties alone, he’s at least a good player.
At the same time, I think it is totally valid to suggest at the moment, all signs are pointing to a future at Chelsea without Jorginho because he is not the right player. With Lampard settling on a tactic that uses two roaming No. 8s who have the responsibility to cover the middle and attacking third, supporting the wide attacking players and linking with the striker, there is inevitably going to be an overbalance at the top-end of the pitch. It’s not unreasonable, therefore, to suggest that the final midfielder in the 3 needs to be defensively-minded and oriented.
N’Golo Kante has, since Project Restart been Lampard’s preferred choice in this role. The industrious Frenchman has been injury-plagued this year, but again, you do have to say as a fan, you feel much more confident with Kante screening the defence than Jorginho doing the same role. People forget quite how pivotal Kante has been for club and country: in our Premier League title and FA Cup under Antonio Conte, in the Europa League for Maurizio Sarri and the World Cup for France. He is a world class player and despite the fact that he is slightly older than Jorginho, he’s infinitely better when it comes to defending, much smarter when it comes to tactical fouls and is more mobile than the Italian, which is vital in the Premier League.
However, modern football is a squad game, so is there a place for Jorginho in the wider squad? Potentially, although the emergence of Billy Gilmour does seem to have convinced Lampard that the Scot is his second choice for this role. Again, he is more mobile than Jorginho and shows a willingness to be more adventurous than the ex-Napoli midfielder, albeit sometimes putting his team under more risk due to the sometimes haphazard passing.
There’s also the tenacious Conor Gallagher, currently on loan at Swansea who will no doubt be somewhere in Lampard’s mind, the potential of using Ethan Ampadu in a similar manner (although I think the Welshman would be better suited at centre-back) and also the pervading rumours of Chelsea re-signing Declan Rice from London rivals West Ham United. When you factor in that the Italian press seem convinced that Jorginho is on his way to Juventus, for a reunion with Mister Sarri, it only seems to point one way for the player.
Ultimately, I think you can sum up Jorginho with a single sentence. In the right system, with the right manager and the right teammates, he is brilliant. He’ll control games, set tempos and just generally be busy whilst the attacking and flair players work their magic.
However, in the wrong system, he struggles massively. He doesn’t fit the tune of the play, his overall game is poor and he doesn’t contribute much offensively or defensively.
He’s not alone in this category of needing a system to succeed – a number of players fall under this label, and indeed, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That said, it’s becoming blissfully clear that for all of Jorginho’s qualities, the Italian does not fit in with Lampard’s apparent vision for the future. Lampard as a manager seems to favour dynamism, flair and attacking potential over a more conservative, slower-paced approach and Jorginho certainly would prefer to play in the latter.
Jorginho has played his part for Chelsea, this season and last year and you couldn’t accuse the Italian of shirking. Indeed, he’s responded well in the face of adversary from a section of fans last year, and at times, such as against Watford before Christmas has produced some jaw-dropping passes. However, these have been all too infrequent to warrant continuing with him, especially when you realise how defensively vulnerably Chelsea are when Jorginho plays as the deepest midfielder.
As a result, it feels like it is the best outcome for club and player if they go their separate ways. Lampard is beginning to mould a Chelsea in his own vision and Jorginho’s stock will only drop with poor performances. At the same time, the player is not getting any younger and deserves to enjoy his prime in a system that suits him, so he can show the best of his abilities.
Written and edited by Rob Pratley