The importance of Jorginho for Chelsea and Italy

From being one half of Tuchel's "double six" to being the lone deep midfielder, from a prolific goal scorer to prolific provider, to being able to "imagine what will happen two or three moves ahead", Jorginho's influence in the middle of the park is unique
Chelsea midfielder Jorginho celebrates after scoring  PREMIUM
Chelsea midfielder Jorginho celebrates after scoring 
Published on Jan 25, 2022 02:19 PM IST
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By, Kolkata

In a match that was about Harry’s hand and Hakim’s wondrous left foot, Stamford Bridge didn’t forget to give Jorginho a warm send-off when he was substituted. As the deepest Chelsea midfielder, Jorginho had a quiet Sunday, so why the appreciation? The answer possibly lies in how he took on a different role and still produced an efficient performance, growing in stature as Chelsea took charge and won 2-0 through second-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Thiago Silva. It was Chelsea’s first win in the Premier League since the 3-1 win away to Aston Villa on Boxing Day.

Mason Mount and Matteo Kovacic playing further up meant Jorginho was the single No 6. This was unusual because Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has spoken about Jorginho not having the “pure physical ability” needed in the Premier League for that role. Jorginho was bumped off the ball for the move that ended with Harry Kane pushing Thiago Silva and was booked for a foul on Steven Bergwijn soon after. According to data from sofascore.com, for players on the pitch for at least 70 minutes, there were seven who had better passing accuracy than Jorginho’s 86%. But crucial in the Italian’s evaluation was that he won seven of his 11 duels, made the maximum interceptions (4) and shared the second-highest number of tackles in the game (3). The last three metrics explain how he kept the away team from controlling the midfield.

In the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final, also against Spurs, Jorginho had greater influence. Used with Kovacic as part of Tuchel’s ‘double six’— it’s been 18 months since Chelsea lost when they both played the full match — essentially two defensive players who have the liberty to move up in a four-person midfield, Jorginho helped run the game which Chelsea won 1-0.

Tuchel calls the double six, the “centre and the heart of the game”. In a chelseafc.com video, the German has explained why he prefers two instead of one defensive mids. A single No 6, he has said, requires the player to be “very, very disciplined” and if you play three, one player changing position means the other two having to adapt accordingly. Ergo, the double six because it gives his team “a little more freedom.” Yet when he opted for three in the middle on Sunday, Tuchel gave Jorginho that role.

It is one the 30-year-old plays for Italy. Against Belgium in the Euro 2020 quarter-final, Jorginho played 72 passes with 98.6% accuracy. It was the best among those who started for both teams. Among the maze of short passes was a delivery that sent Frederico Chiesa scurrying down the right, one that found Marco Verratti through Romelu Lukaku and Youri Tielemans and a third that freed Lorenzo Insigne on the left. In the semi-final against Spain, Jorginho stood out for not letting Spain’s huge possession count by making eight interceptions.

Like he did in the Champions League semi-final when Chelsea surprised Real Madrid by letting Jorginho stay back and N’ Golo Kante create panic in front. In the final, he and Kante were part of the double six but weeks later at the European championships, Jorginho was executing a different responsibility in a 4-3-3 set-up.

Winning the Euro and the Champions League ended a great season for the Italian who was born in the port town of Imbituba, Brazil. According to Sky Sports data, Jorginho topped the tackles and interceptions list in both competitions, was second in ball recoveries in both, covered the maximum distance in the Euros (86.6km) and was second on that count in the Champions League. 

A look at Jorginho's stats
A look at Jorginho's stats

That is why despite his obvious lack of pace, Jorginho has Tuchel, Italy coach Roberto Mancini and Maurizio Sarri, whom he almost gave a Serie A with Napoli in 2018-19 and who got him to Chelsea for 50.4 million pounds, in his corner. That is why Lorenzo Insigne calls him an artist and why Robert Lewandowski voted him as his No. 1 choice for the Fifa Player of the Year this term.

“I always look at the attacking players but what Jorginho has won also means a lot. You have to stay neutral. Jorginho also scored important goals and showed a great style of play,” is how Lewandowski explained his decision.

According to Tuchel, Jorginho is “a very strategic player” who can “imagine what is going to happen one or two moves ahead.” Jorginho knows “where to help out…when to switch play, when not to switch play.” For Tuchel, therefore, Jorginho is “a huge link in the middle of the pitch...not only for us but also for Italy.”

A combination of niggles, including back pain, and fatigue because Chelsea have played 19 games, the most since the international break in November among the top three Premier League teams, have contributed to Jorginho, Chelsea’s highest scorer in the league last term, not hitting the highs of last term. For club or country.

Tuchel has spoken about Jorginho not having any meaningful pre-season before coming off the bench in the UEFA Super Cup in August, one month after the Euros. “We knew in some weeks we would face maybe a dip in freshness and form,” Tuchel has said. For Italy, Jorginho’s usually successful stop-hop penalty routine misfired and instead of having comfortably sealed a berth for Qatar, the European champions, having fluffed lines against Bulgaria, Switzerland and Northern Ireland, are now in the playoffs.

The international break means Chelsea won’t play till February 5 and not have a game in the league till February 19. By then, they may even have won a trophy (the Fifa Club World Cup). Rested and possibly with another winners’ medal, Jorginho could yet end the season being the best version of what Sarri sees in him: a refined player who makes everything look easy. Even that is unlikely to fetch Jorginho any Fifa individual award. He will be in excellent company that includes Xavi and Andrea Pirlo.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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