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. So, Jorginho signed for Chelsea in a £50m deal that some onlookers started to doubt the wisdom of when he became a 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 that 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 around 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 likes to receive the ball on the half-turn to the right of centre before playing a diagonal pass to the right full-back or wide forward, or looking to switch possession to the left side.
He has the awareness required to break lines from deeper positions and is particularly skilled at executing lofted passes to get a teammate in behind the opposition. 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 pull an opponent out of their slot 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 gets on 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.
He is far more effective playing shorter passes than he is longer balls, and his assist return might improve if he were to look for the run of a player in behind more often with a longer ball. When he does clip passes in behind, his success rate is too low as he looks to find the run of a wide player, who will then look to play the ball across goal (above). These are eye-catching and can be hugely effective, but they are also very difficult to pull off. His preference for that type of pass means he will play the pass before the assist fairly regularly, but his assist tally remains low. Not all players have to register assists to prove their worth, and Jorginho is useful without assists, but a player with his passing ability should certainly get more assists than he does.
One huge strength to his game 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 up a position in front of the defence and screens passes into the opposition’s attacking midfielders or strikers, and he demonstrates good anticipation and positioning when doing so, resulting in lots of 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 the 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 formation and regularly been asked to do the same job in the same formation under Lampard, Jorginho has largely alternated with Mateo Kovacic for the second central midfielder slot 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, while 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 two- or three-man midfields they come up against. The two number 10s will push forwards along with the two wing-backs to form a five-man attacking line, and it is Jorginho’s job alongside his central midfield partner to distribute the ball to the attackers. The attacking players will make opposite movements to lose their markers and pull the defenders apart, 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 attacked being sparked into life or the ball having to be played back away from danger and recycled again.
With the wing-backs pushing up 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 out 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). This 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 support play and look to offer a backwards passing option to his teammate should their route forwards be blocked. When this happens down the left flank, Jorginho – who rarely uses his left foot – has to bring the ball across his body and will therefore tend to recycle possession or to spread play out to the right before the opposition can shift across. When Chelsea play back to him on the right, he likes to take up an inside-right position to receive from an advanced player out wide and put a cross into the box. When doing this, he has the vision and technique to try and pick out a specific teammate and he tries to do that, 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 goalkeeper. He could do with generating more whip on his crosses to help his target out.
After a difficult start to life 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.