Jorginho was the signing Maurizio Sarri demanded above all others when he was appointed Chelsea manager in July 2018, the Italian stressing the important of beating Manchester City and Pep Guardiola to the midfielder’s signature. Jorginho therefore signed for Chelsea in a £50m deal that observers started to doubt the wisdom of when he became the lightning rod for criticism of the possession-heavy football of Sarri’s team.
Under the guidance of Thomas Tuchel, however, Jorginho is thriving, in a team playing a style he thinks suits his game far more than that played under Tuchel’s predecessor Frank Lampard. “Straight away, he understood how to get the best from us,” Jorginho said of Tuchel. “He understood my characteristics. The way to play with short passes when we need short passes and long balls when we need long balls. It is coming together.”
Jorginho is a ball-playing central midfielder who is best as the focal point of his team’s possession, controlling the tempo of play from deep territory, linking midfield to attack, and offering constant lateral movements across midfield to move the opposition and receive short passes where possible. He can play as the sole pivot or as one of two in a double pivot; when playing alongside a midfield partner he prefers to receive the ball on the half-turn to the right of centre before playing a diagonal pass to the right-sided full-back or wide forward, or looking to switch possession to the left.
He has the awareness required to break lines from deeper positions and is particularly skilled at executing lofted passes to take a teammate in behind. The vast majority of his passes are played sideways as so much play goes through him and he does so much of his important work simply moving the ball around the pitch in an attempt to draw an opponent out of their position and create a gap for a more attack-minded teammate to exploit. He will, however, take his first touch with the aim of progressing play, and when the opportunity arises to play forwards he takes it.
He almost exclusively receives the ball in front of the opposition’s midfield, and rarely sets up chances to score, so assists are extremely infrequent. Instead, he takes responsibility for receiving the ball, absorbing pressure, and then moving it on. He offers security in possession, and often operates as a point through which his team can recycle possession before changing their point of attack.
with a longer ball. When he does clip passes in behind, his success rate is too low because he looks to find the run of a wide player, who will then look to play the ball across goal (below). Those are eye-catching and can be hugely effective, but they are also very difficult to execute. His preference for that type of pass means he will fairly regularly play the pass before the assist, but his assist tally remains low. Not all players have to register assists to prove their worth, and Jorginho is useful without them, but a player with his passing ability should certainly record more assists than he does.
One huge strength is his penalty-taking ability. He uses the goalkeeper-dependent method, choosing to wait for his opponent to commit before calmly slotting the ball to the other side of the goal. He has an impressive success rate with his penalties, although his technique is a risky one – when he fails, it looks particularly bad and means he draws extra criticism.
When his team is out of possession, Jorginho takes a position in front of their defence and screens passes into the opposition’s attacking midfielders or strikers, and he demonstrates good anticipation and positioning when doing so, resulting in numerous interceptions. He works hard to hold his position and communicates constantly with his midfield partner to maintain a short distance between them, thereby reducing the chances for the opposition to play through the middle of them, and also reducing the risk of his team’s centre-backs being exposed. He is proactive at defensive transitions, able and willing to quickly engage his opponent and counter-press or cover behind advanced full-backs to delay counters if they are further forwards when the ball has been lost.
He is sometimes caught out when one-on-one and when tracking midfield runners, though, as he isn’t particularly fast or agile. If he is playing as the sole defensive midfielder, he can sometimes struggle to cover enough ground to adequately protect his defence; he is therefore most effective when he has another central midfielder alongside him.
Role at Chelsea
Having played as the single pivot in Sarri’s 4-3-3 and regularly been asked to do the same job in the same formation under Lampard, Jorginho has largely alternated with Mateo Kovacic to be the second central midfielder in Tuchel’s 3-4-3, alongside the quite brilliant N’Golo Kanté. Kanté has more freedom to attack and plays a more box-to-box role; Jorginho sits deep and looks to dictate play while rarely progressing beyond the ball.
Jorginho, Kanté and the two number 10s that play either side of a lone forward create a four-player box that will provide a central midfield overload against the midfield twos or threes they encounter. The two number 10s push forwards along with the two wing-backs to form a five-point attack, and it is Jorginho’s job, alongside his central midfield partner, to distribute the ball to those attackers. The attacking players will make contrasting movements to lose their markers and stretch defenders, so the timing of Jorginho’s release has to be spot on (above). Whether or not he gets that right can be the difference between an attack being ignited or the ball having to be played back away from danger and recycled.
With their wing-backs pushing high, Chelsea’s route from defence to attack is often through Jorginho in central midfield. Given the presence of three centre-backs, there is no need for a midfielder to drop into defence, and he works hard to find space in central midfield, constantly on the move to seek a gap in the opposition’s structure. He is happy to receive the ball off a defender in a crowded space, and is skilled at receiving on his back foot to allow him to progress play forwards with his second touch (below). His is an extremely useful trait, and something that the best central midfielders must have to play at the top level.
When play is in an advanced position, Jorginho will offer support and attempt to provide a backwards passing option to his teammate should their route forwards be blocked. When that happens on the left, Jorginho – who rarely uses his left foot – has to bring the ball across his body and will therefore recycle possession or spread play to the right before the opposition can shift across.
When Chelsea play back to him on the right, he likes to adopt an inside-right position to receive from an advanced player out wide and put a cross into the area. While doing so he has the vision and technique to try to pick out a specific teammate and he tries to reach them, but too often his crosses are tame, and leave his teammate with too much work to do to generate the power needed to test the opposition’s goalkeeper. More whip on his crosses would help his target.
After a difficult start at Chelsea, Jorginho has overcome the doubts about whether his playing style was suited to the Premier League. Having played a hugely important role in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph under Tuchel, he has very much proved his worth.