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Chelsea’s new boss Maurizio Sarri has finally landed his first key signing of the season: Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker, the role Chelsea has been in need of ever since Nemanja Matic has left. The former Napoli midfielder has been in the eyes of his former boss Sarri already who pulled off the deal at the right time when Manchester City was just about to complete their move. The role of Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker can be vital in addressing most of Chelsea’s midfield struggles. This piece provides an explanation of how Sarri can make the best out of the £50.4m signing.

Chelsea’s midfield concerns

After the departure of Matic to Manchester United, Chelsea’s midfield has lost its balance both defensively and offensively and it has been the same till date. The Serbian provided a strong defensive cover to Chelsea’s backline while contributing to key attacking actions as well. In fact, it was the solid cover of Chelsea’s midfield which allowed the wing-backs to remain fluid during the attacking phases in Chelsea’s title-winning season under Conte. The pass maps of Chelsea from 2016-17 season when Chelsea won the title, are shown below.

Chelsea 2016-17 pass maps by @11tegen11 show the offensive contribution of midfield and the wing-backs.

But without a solid midfield, the wing back model failed in Chelsea’s post-title season. Chelsea’s wing backs who were not that blessed defensively forced to fall back just to have their team’s defence gain superiority in numbers at the back. In the central regions too, Chelsea became penetrable as neither of the midfielders – be it Bakayoko, Drinkwater, or Fabregas – couldn’t develop the kind of Kante-Matic midfield partnership. Bakayoko and Drinkwater couldn’t maintain the positional discipline and structural coherency of the midfield in partnership with Kante while Fabregas being the attacking asset was more of a liability in defence. Thanks to Kante who had to shift from his box-to-box role to the deep buffer role in order to provide cover to the back three and stop the counters from the opposition. But the French midfielder was lacking offensively, especially from a central defensive position.

With no defensive midfielder or deep-lying playmaker, Chelsea became offensively restricted to a great deal – as much as the team which made a record of making the highest goal difference (1.87 per game) and scoring the most number of goals (2.7 per game) once in 2009-10, could only score 1.6 goals per game in the last season with the goal difference of mere 0.63 per game. That’s a huge conceding.

The restricted role of the wing-backs also didn’t allow Chelsea to stretch out their passing flow up to the width of the final third. With no one at the flanks in the offensive third, Chelsea attacking structure had to concentrate naturally to the central regions with no creativity from wide. The pass maps of some of Chelsea’s fixtures in the last season also shows that Chelsea had no offensive presence in the wide region of the final third with almost all the attacks directly targeted to the central region. Besides, this lack of creativity from wide wasn’t even compensated by any playmaking or control from the deep either. In fact, the entire midfield seems to be the cornerstone of backward passing or sideways passing. The centrally concentrated direct attacks had eventually enabled Chelsea’s opponents to read their moves and thus defend accordingly. The pass maps of Chelsea from the 2017-18 season, are shown below. The difference is visible from the one above.

Chelsea 2017-2018 pass maps by @11tegen11 show lack of offensive elements in the midfield and wings dominated by backward and sideways passing.

Such a week and conservative tactical set up strongly requires a defensive midfielder who can dictate the flow of attacks from the central defensive midfield and can provide a strong defensive cover to the central defence.

Jorginho’s playing style

Jorginho’s and Sarri’s playing styles have been part and parcel to each other from their time at Napoli. The midfielder has served as the deep-lying playmaker at the base of Napoli’s midfield dictating the game from there while providing a robust defensive cover to the backline. Jorginho was involved in intense passing from the deep and also helped his team in making transitions – Sarri’s favourite approach of football but quite contrary to what Chelsea plays. The pass map from one of Napoli’s game last season displays the same with Jorginho as the central defensive midfielder orchestrating the flow of the game from the base of the midfield.

Jorginho at the base of Napoli’s midfield dictating the passing flow of his team.

In terms of his offensive contribution, the midfielder played 89.5 percent successful passes in his last Serie A season, which is close to the passing stats of Kante but is higher than that of other midfielders in stock – Fabregas (82.4%), Bakayoko (86.2%), and Drinkwater (86%) in their Premier League season. Although the difference between the passing success rate of Jorginho and Bakayoko is around 3.5%, this is translated to around 97 successful passes per 90 minute played for Jorginho while only around 40 successful passes per 90 minute played for Bakayoko – less than half of Jorginho. This shows Jorginho’s intense passing game in Napoli. More importantly, the 26-year-old is better than all current Chelsea midfielders in terms of key passes stats. Jorginho played 1.7 key passes per 90 minute in his last Serie A season. On the other hand, his counterparts at Chelsea – Kante, Bakayoko, and Drinkwater – played only 1.2, 0.7, and 0.9 key passes per 90 minute in their last Premier League season. Only Fabregas played more key passes, 3.5 per 90-minute, but that’s just because of his pure interest in creating from the deep position. Comparing the key passes statistic of Jorginho with Chelsea’s midfielders not only shows that how strong Jorginho’s offensive contribution is than Chelsea’s midfielders but also implies how less Chelsea’s midfield has been involved in playmaking and dictating the tempo of the attack in the last season.

Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker

This signifies the key role of Jorginho in Chelsea’s midfield in the upcoming season. With Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker, Sarri should bring the balance to Chelsea midfield which was missing in the last season. With Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker, Kante can also restore his position as a box to box midfielder where he can ensure its presence anywhere on the pitch, stop the counters in the advanced regions, can fore-press the opponents and win the ball back and even dribble up with the ball to help in transitions and shifting the play when needed. The two can make a very compatible midfield partnership allowing them to restore much of defensive balance of Chelsea’s midfield. Offensively, Jorginho’s contribution in playmaking and distributing from the deep midfield would restore the long-lost attacking balance of Chelsea’s midfield too. Besides, with Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker operating from the base of the midfield would also enable Hazard to not drop back much to collect the ball as the midfielder will be there all ready to set the game up for his forwards.

Jorginho heat map – taken from Wyscout.

In short, Jorginho may feel to be an alien in Chelsea’s current set up, but his addition to the Blues’ squad will definitely influence their game and overall playing style more likely in a positive way.

The need of an attacking midfielder

The important consideration is how Sarri will fit Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker in their midfield or will accommodate Chelsea’s midfield to Jorginho’s playing style in order to make the best out of the Italian. However, whatever changes be made or not made, one thing which Sarri would and should make sure of is to place Jorginho at the base of the midfield which calls for a 3-man central midfield. While Jorginho’s profile already suits him to be the perfect partner of Kante, the partnership will not be enough, Jorginho can’t simply be the double pivot. The role of Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker also needs a third midfielder – an attacking midfielder (AM) who could carry forward his play to the key regions and have it connected to the forwards as the former Napoli man tends to lie deepest in the midfield. The presence of an attacking midfielder (AM) alongside Kante and Jorginho would enable the midfielders to have their attacks concluded in key regions.

Jorginho against Internazionale at the base of the midfield dictating the game’s flow. Hamsik in the attacking midfielder (AM) here.

Now, who could be the third midfielder carrying an offensive element? Fabregas is not a bad option but he is not as mobile as he once was. So it’s not likely that he can be part of an intense passing game the way Sarri likes. The other midfielders also don’t fit any close to the criteria either. However, Pedro would fit better into this role than Fabregas due to his greater mobility and more sense of creating the offensive presence at wings and half spaces than Fabregas who likes to create the play from deep. Pedro has got good dribbling skills and can hold the play well. The heat maps shown below compares Pedro and Fabregas movements.

Fabregas heat map which is more of a deep-lying playmaker than an attacking midfielder or winger – taken from Wyscout.
Pedro heat map which shows his intense offensive presence in opponent half at the wings – taken from Wyscout.

Pedro played 1.5 key passes per 90-minute in his last Premier League season. This is less than Fabregas and Jorginho but is still greater than that of Chelsea’s remaining stock of midfielders mentioned above. And as said, Fabregas and Jorginho being the playmakers in their respective teams are more likely to surpass the ‘third midfielders’ in the key passes statistic, so can be excluded and Pedro makes it to the top. Overall, Pedro has comparatively a more offensively focused vision in the final third, especially in its wider regions, than Fabregas and can be a better link between Hazard, Giroud, and probably Willian at the front line and Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker.

Chelsea’s possible midfield with Jorginho and AM.


One thing for sure, Jorginho as Chelsea’s deep-lying playmaker will be a worthwhile addition to Chelsea’s depth. But Sarri does need more signings, mainly an attacking midfielder who would fit his style, and at least one more powerful defender. But that all depends on Chelsea’s funds to be allocated to net transfers and the squad on hand by the end of the transfer window – more Chelsea players can move out including the news on Courtois and Hazard. Sarri might also want to do changes in the backline from back-3 to back-4 to make it compatible to his favourite 3-man midfield. If that’s not possible, he might have to make it 3-5-2 to keep with the 3-man midfield and get the best of his £50.4m signing. But more on that later.