The summer signing of Jorginho has completely changed the complexion of Chelsea’s midfield and how Maurizio Sarri wants this Blues team to play.
Antonio Conte deployed a two-man engine room on the most part during his two years at Stamford Bridge that relied on box-to-box dynamism and defensive solidity, but Sarri’s added a new body to the mix to alter the structure of that department by bringing in a different kind of midfielder – Jorginho is a deep-lying playmaker pure and simple, in the Andrea Pirlo mould.
All signs point to Jorginho being the beating heart of a three-man midfield, anchoring two team-mates just in front of him. N’Golo Kante, easily one of the best playbreakers in the world, is an obvious pick for one of those two remaining positions, but it’s not wholly obvious who the last engine room slot should go to. Football FanCast lay out four suggested solutions…
The signing from Monaco was probably Chelsea’s biggest disappointment last season and Bakayoko doesn’t seem to be too high in Sarri’s estimations either, which is a real worry for his long-term prospects at Stamford Bridge. But it shouldn’t be forgotten just how impressive the 23-year-old was for the French outfit, as a key part of the side that reached a Champions League semi-final and unexpectedly lifted the Ligue 1 title, and how young Bakayoko still is.
His sheer power and brawn could provide the exact protection Jorginho needs just in front of him, while Bakayoko’s best moments last season actually came when he used that physicality to support the attack by bursting forward. Those kinds of runs help create the space Chelsea’s big-money summer acquisition needs to truly thrive at the base of midfield, but the one-cap Frenchman – who Transfermarkt value at £36million – would need to drastically raise his performance levels from last term.
On paper, Fabregas is easily Chelsea’s best-equipped midfielder to aid Jorginho in retaining possession, which is clearly a big part of how Sarri wants this Blues side to operate. The 31-year-old is still one of the best technicians at the club and although he came under criticism at points last season for struggling in a flat two-man midfield, the introduction of an extra body should – in theory, at least – leave the Spanish playmaker a little less exposed.
That being said, the biggest concern is whether he’s simply too similar to the Italy international. At this moment in his career, it probably should be Fabregas anchoring the midfield and orchestrating play with ranging passes, rather than playing in front of the man who’s just been signed to perform those duties instead. He lacks the physicality help protect Jorginho, and the offensive energy to create the space he needs.
Arguably Chelsea’s best performer on Sunday, with the exception of Willy Caballero, amid a disappointing afternoon for the Blues at Wembley. Barkley’s Chelsea career just hasn’t taken off after arriving injured halfway through last season but Sarri’s already revealed he’s a big fan of the England international, so perhaps the Italian’s reconfiguration of the engine room will bring him greater fortunes for 2018/19.
That’s likely because Barkley seemed to do a bit of everything against Manchester City; he linked up well with Jorginho, he dragged opponents away from the deep-lying playmaker with sharp dribbles and smart runs, and he even managed to thread the ball through to the forward line a few times – notching up two created chances. Defensively, Barkley’s always been a little suspect but partnering him with N’Golo Kante should reduce his obligations off the ball anyway.
Chelsea fans are desperate to see Loftus-Cheek integrated into this Chelsea team after setting Selhurst Park alight at times last season and putting in a few promising performances at the World Cup as well. And the powerhouse really looks like the modern age midfielder that seem to be taking the Premier League by storm at the moment; a roaming No.8 who can cause real problems on the counter-attack through his power, speed and technical trickery.
The 22-year-old still lacks experience though and fitness has always been a problem for him – last season’s 25 appearances across all competitions for Palace, some from the bench, was the most demanding campaign of his career in terms of minutes. Add to the fact he’s coming back from the World Cup a little late and perhaps it’s a tall ask for Loftus-Cheek to slot straight into this engine room. It could be a case of him eventually winning the battle for the role over the course of the season.
Probably the least-fancied member of Chelsea’s midfield cohort, Drinkwater’s hardly made an impression since arriving from Leicester last summer. But the England international has always been the kind of player who operates well as a reliable cog in a functioning team, so he could prove to be an important balancing act in Chelsea’s engine room – someone who can contribute at both ends, help Jorginho retain possession and win the ball back if needed.
There’s also, of course, his history with Kante. As a midfield pairing, the duo ran riot over the rest of the league to drive Leicester City towards the title in 2015/16. If Sarri can rekindle that partnership and add Jorginho’s qualities to it as well, Drinkwater could emerge as one of Chelsea’s unsung heroes for the new season.
So Chelsea fans, who do you see as Jorginho and Kante’s perfect accomplice in the middle of the park? Let us know by voting below…