Jorginho has joined N’Golo Kante as a Chelsea midfielder who plays as though he were two men.
The Blues need Kante to cover Jorginho as they learn their way through the defensive aspects of Maurizio Sarri’s system.
Jorginho played his eponymous role against Arsenal, controlling the tempo and direction of play with each of his 105 touches and 91 completed passes.
He also played the Antonio Conte role, constantly shouting, pointing and directing his teammates where to go and what to do.
Upon the opening whistle he shoveled his arms forward to spur the Blues into Arsenal’s zone.
Moments later when Kepa Arrizabalaga set the ball down for the game’s first goal kick, Jorginho pointed straight to Antonio Rudiger, leaving Arrizabalaga no doubt about the recipient of his pass.
Jorginho handled these two full-time jobs well for 90 minutes, and the Blues needed everything they got from the Brazitalian.
But until they can fully execute Maurizio Sarri’s system, Jorginho needs help in front of the defence from N’Golo Kante.
As the deep-lying playmaker Jorginho has a definite defensive responsibility to patrol the area in front of the centre-backs. If the ball-carrier moves out to Chelsea’s left in this area, Jorginho marks him and shepherds him to the outside as N’Golo Kante covers the centre area Jorginho vacated.
However, both in transition and when the opponent has possession Chelsea are vulnerable to their lines being spread across more space than even Kante and Jorginho can cover.
Arsenal’s cutbacks exploited this vulnerability repeatedly. On Arsenal’s first goal, Kante and Jorginho were in line with each other a few yards ahead of the defensive line when they started to retreat upon Willian’s turnover. They were amongst the defensive line when the ball came back to Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the top of the box.
Willian was the only other Chelsea player in the box, off to the right as he followed the run of the player who dispossessed him. Chelsea did not have anyone in the centre of the pitch within 15 yards of Mkhitaryan tracking his run. The defenders were still on the back foot, and therefore could not come out to meet his shot.
The Gunners’ opening goal was not their first use of the cutback, nor was it the last time they would score off of the move. In each case, Arsenal’s forwards ran off the shoulders of Chelsea’s defensive line.
This forced the Blues’ defenders to retreat, which pulled Jorginho and Kante with them. Because the wingers and Ross Barkley did not respond as quickly, they left a large square of space in the centre of the pitch from 10-25 yards in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
With N’Golo Kante playing as a box-to-box midfielder under Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea have an even greater distance between Jorginho and the next line of Blues at the moment Chelsea turn the ball over. Kante often found himself in line with Alvaro Morata, with Ross Barkley even or a few steps behind on the opposite side of the pitch. Then there was nothing but green space until Jorginho standing in front of David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger.
When David Luiz took it upon himself to bring the ball up across midfield himself, Jorginho would drop back alongside Rudiger to maintain the two-man defensive back-stop. Kante would already be too far ahead of the play to drop deep if necessary. So if Luiz turned over possession, he and Kante would have to give chase while Jorginho and Rudiger held off the counter-attack.
Chelsea’s aggregate positioning in Maurizio Sarri’s 4-3-3 was textbook: tightly-spaced lines horizontally and vertically, with Jorginho the juncture of two symmetrical diamonds. At pivotal moments, though, the lines were pulled apart, creating enough space for Arsenal to create clear scoring chances. Luck had as much to do with the 2-2 halftime scoreline as anything else.
Chelsea have much more to learn about defending in Maurizio Sarri’s system than attacking. Arsenal took advantage of the Blues’ unfamiliarity with playing an offsides trap to push the defenders back and create the space at the top of the box. This move also exploited the Blues’ low competence in Sarri’s marking system. The Blues still do not know to whom and where they should devote their defensive attentions (and they have David Luiz, who has no defensive attention to begin with).
While they adapt, they need N’Golo Kante to stay closer to his usual role as a defensive midfield. By staying deeper, Kante can provide Jorginho the necessary cover on transition. And by staying in front of Jorginho on defence, he can close off the centre of the pitch to cutbacks or balls targeting a late runner.
Jorginho is the only player who fully knows what Sarri expects from him and how to go about doing it. Chelsea are lucky to have him and his presence will accelerate their education. They need him as their maestro until they are able to handle matters on their own.
For as much as Jorginho can do, he can not do everything. He is already filling two roles out there, and could use some help in a third, equally necessary role.
N’Golo Kante plays as though he were two men, so he is the perfect person to help Jorginho help the squad. Once the Blues are competent in Sarri-ball, Kante can go back to his new role as box-to-box.
But with the squad in transition, they need Kante in his usual position: everywhere, but with a focus on defence.