The midfield maestro had impressed for Napoli as the metronome in Maurizio Sarri’s frenetic style. He followed his manager to Stamford Bridge in a deal believed to be in the region of £50million, tipped by many to be the poster boy for Sarriball.
The Italian tactician built his team around the Brazilian-born schemer. The move saw World Cup winner N’Golo Kante vacate the No.6 role as the deepest of the three midfielders and return to life as a box-to-box man. This provoked a strong reaction from Chelsea fans and Kante admirers, with many feeling the Frenchman was better suited to playing a more defensive role.
Sarri guided Chelsea to a 12-match unbeaten start in the Premier League, winning eight to turn what many thought would be a two-way battle at the summit into a three-horse race with Liverpool and Manchester City.
But the Blues tailed off during the manic month of December. It was during this period Jorginho’s performance were scrutinised. In the eyes of many, the adopted Italian was a luxury. What he did on the pitch could not be truly quantified, at least not in the stats many have become fixated with.
The Chelsea No.5 wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t assisting and he wasn’t slaloming past the opposition to create opportunities for team-mates. There was nothing really highlight-reel worthy about his game and this was a stick with which to beat him. However, this was never his game and these weren’t the right metrics to judge him on.
The pace of the Premier League differs to Serie A. There was an adaptation period – there is for all players – but as far as performances go, Sarri couldn’t have asked his midfield general to do much more.
He was heavily involved in everything Chelsea did, averaging in excess of 100 touches per 90 minutes. He was attempting 88 passes and finding a team-mate with 72 of them, an impressive pass success rate of 89 per cent for the season. His composure on the ball and press-resistance meant the Blues would maintain possession for large periods of time, even when pressed aggressively.
But, ultimately, he was a victim of his own success. Jorginho was misunderstood as a player and his role wasn’t truly appreciated. His assured approach meant people expected more from him in terms of tangible output.
He was tipped to follow Sarri back to Italy when the former Napoli manager replaced Massimiliano Allegri at Juventus. The feeling was Jorginho wasn’t a good fit for Frank Lampard’s high-energy system. But the ex-Verona man has emphatically put those doubts to bed. Not only is he a good fit, he’s still a key player for the Blues.
Chelsea’s approach to games has changed but Jorginho has remained fairly consistent in his. However, he’s made a few subtle adjustments and these are what have made a difference and why people are now starting to appreciate him as a player.
The 27-year-old is still averaging a high number of touches, 95 on a per-90 basis, and he’s still attempting in excess of 80 passes – 82 to be exact. The difference in these numbers may not seem that dramatic but, over the course of a 38-game season, Jorginho would be having close to 300 fewer touches and he’d be attempting 228 fewer passes. He’s still heavily involved, just not as much as he was under Sarri. And this fits well with Lampard’s new-look Chelsea side. Jorginho still needs to be a controller but the tempo has to be quicker to benefit this much more direct Blues team.
The system is no longer centred around possession, though Jorginho still connects with 88 per cent of his passes. Instead, it’s about getting Chelsea forward as quickly as possible. This means players need to take fewer touches but still be as effective on the ball. And the former Napoli man has managed to nail this.
Despite averaging fewer passes this term, he’s actually assisting more shots (1.1 up from 0.8). Again, it seems like a negligible difference but over the season that equates to 11 more shots. Furthermore, Jorginho is now averaging more dribbles and he’s getting into the final third with greater regularity. He’s already been fouled the same number of times in the final third as he was in the whole of last term.
All of these stats highlight how less is sometimes more. Chelsea’s new approach forced Jorginho to be much more incisive and proactive. He’s seeing less of the ball but doing more with it, all because the Blues are now playing in a way that allows him more time in possession. Everything is now a bit more instinctive for the Italy international.