With the signing of one incredibly unique midfielder, Maurizio Sarri hopes to change the mentality and structure of this Chelsea team, transforming it from a meticulously organised 3-4-3 designed by Antonio Conte to a free-flowing 4-3-3 in the Manchester City and Liverpool mould.
That’s why the west Londoners have parted with the second-largest transfer fee in their history to bring in Jorginho, a deep-lying playmaker of Andrea Pirlo influence who was pivotal to Sarri’s success using the same setup at Napoli.
There’s no reason the same good idea can’t work twice, even if it is in a completely different league, and there’s no reason Jorginho can’t be a roaring success at Chelsea.
But his debut on Sunday inevitably rang alarm bells; while his performance was no worse, and actually a lot better, than the vast majority of his team-mates who produced substandard displays against one of the teams Roman Abramovich appointed Sarri to emulate, the real danger is how Pep Guardiola has already managed to turn what should be Chelsea’s new key strength – Jorginho’s orchestrating vision from the base of midfield – into a glaring weakness.
A number of of City’s attacks in their 2-0 Community Shield win stemmed from stripping Jorginho of the ball in the middle of the park. Although statistically this only happened twice, the positions Jorginho occupies left Chelsea’s backline immediately exposed whenever he lost the ball. The same can be said for his passing accuracy; 92% is exactly the level expected of the former Napoli star, but the 8% he squandered were more decisive as the many he completed.
Add in the fact Phil Foden directly attacked the space Jorginho left behind to assist Sergio Aguero’s opener during one of the few occasions in which the Chelsea signing pushed forward out of his deep-lying pocket, and we see a recurring theme. Clearly, Guardiola instructed his midfielders and forwards to push high, close down Jorginho and pick him off. It didn’t exactly happen time and again, but enough for City to reap the rewards.
Of course, this by no means Jorginho’s fault alone, although it’s now clear he won’t be afforded the same time on the ball in England as he was in Italy, and this is by no means what Chelsea will look like a few weeks into the Premier League season, when N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard will be involved once again having returned late from the World Cup.
The Belgian should provide a key outlet for Jorginho to flick passes into when he’s under pressure, whereas the Frenchman – used in more of a box-to-box capacity by Sarri – should provide cover when Chelsea’s new midfield marshal does get caught out and create more space for him with energetic bursts forward.
After all, Jorginho really wasn’t helped out by his team-mates on Sunday. He needs not only the midfield but also the defence to draw opponents away from him, yet Chelsea’s backline appeared too preoccupied with trying to organise themselves for turnovers in possession, something they handled incredibly badly, and the midfield simply lacked natural dynamism. Ross Barkley provided a few promising glimpses of it, but Cesc Fabregas proved decisively static – the direct antithesis of what Jorginho needs to thrive in the middle of the park.
In addition to Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Tiemoue Bakayoko could provide the platform for Jorginho to really make his mark in the Premier League through their energy and ability to push the opposing midfield back a few extra yards.
But the immediate concern is how Guardiola’s managed to expose a method for turning Chelsea’s new strength into a dangerous vulnerability, before the Premier League season has even started. Every other manager in the league will have taken note of that and while David Wagner doesn’t have the same level of talent available to him in midfield, Huddersfield now have a ploy to replicate for the opening weekend – push up tight in the middle of the park, wait for the ball to find its way in Jorginho and then trap him in possession.
More often than not, the 25-year-old will be able to beat the press through his technical quality and vision. But Huddersfield will find instant joy on the counter-attack when he doesn’t and that only suits the way the Terriers need to approach Saturday’s encounter at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Although eventually these issues will be ironed out as Jorginho becomes more accustomed to the intensity of the Premier League, key players return to the starting XI and team-mates learn how to make best use of Jorginho’s skill set, the question now is how long will that process take, and how many points will be wasted in the mean-time.
Judging on not only Chelsea’s collective performance on Sunday but also Jorginho’s individually, there’s plenty of work to be done between now and Saturday to ensure the Blues get off to the new season and Sarri’s new era with a winning start.