How Chelsea could solve the Jorginho problem
The first defeat of the season had long been coming for Chelsea. They narrowly survived one against Manchester United in the league with Ross Barkley smashing in a very late equaliser.
Even in that game, they were majorly second best in the second half against a United side which at best has been a mid table side through the course of the Premier League this season.
The cracks first appeared in the home game against Derby County in the League Cup. It again showed in the breakaway goal in the Andros Townsend strike for Palace at the Bridge in the league.
The major expose was away at BATE in the Europa League, as Chelsea were honestly lucky to come back with 3 points. Against a more quality attacking opposition, they fluffed - glaringly.
Much has already been said about Jorginho playing in central defensive midfield, while playing as a Regista, or a deep lying playmaker. Italian football fans immediately throw up the legendary Andrea Pirlo for the understanding of Jorginho's intended role at Chelsea.
On the other hand, much has been said about Cesc Fabregas' ability off the ball, and his lack of tenacious tackling. In the few of his cup starts this season, Cesc has been guilty of giving the ball away, and since he now plays as the Jorginho replacement in the Chelsea setup, he may end up giving the ball away dangerously in the space just in front of the 2 centre backs.
However, while Jorginho's ball passing and retention is much better than Fabregas' at current level, his tackling is even poorer. Arguably, he was lucky not to receive his marching orders for a terrible lunge on Gylfi Sigurdsson in the game against Everton.
Similarly, Son took him for a ride, and exposed his defensive vulnerabilities yet again in the game against Spurs. Apart from the game against Derby, which had the complete second tier defensive line, the other games (vs BATE, Palace and United), were all where Jorginho began the game in the CDM position, and failed the primary job description of his position.
This is in fact not the first time in recent years Chelsea has tried playing a highly skillful midfielder as a deep lying playmaker. Towards the end of the Makelele era, Chelsea tried to use Mikel and Essien in the CDM role, but with Scolari taking the coaching role at Chelsea, he preferred Deco in that position.
Arguably one of the most skilled ball players of his generation, it made sense to experiment, but he was caught out in the same pattern Jorginho is currently, especially because of the pace of the game, and direct running.
This is an attribute prevalent in the Premier League, and to an extent in Bundesliga, LaLiga, and Serie A, from whence Deco and Jorginho came, and are more technical in that aspect.
Fabregas on the other hand, while he has a mixed training in different leagues, was always deployed further up field. To an extent, during his spell at Barcelona, he was at times playing false 9 with Villa, Pedro, and Messi playing on the flanks as inside forwards. Carlo Ancelotti deployed Deco back to his preferred position, and Chelsea went on to win the league as a free scoring team.
That said, the jury will be out on Jorginho sooner or later, especially when the status quo leaves the best central defensive midfielder of the world out of his position. N'Golo Kante may never have the passing range of Jorginho, or attacking instincts to be a playmaker, but his tenacious defensive ability makes him supreme.
This is a more tactical and philosophical question for Sarri to answer. For now, the value of Cesc Fabregas becomes vital for Chelsea.
Fabregas has immense experience playing in the Premier League, and can still unlock defences if he has great runners off the ball. His vision and game-play is unrivaled in the Chelsea ranks, and even in the Premier League, only a handful of players come in his class (cue: Silva, Ozil, Mata, Eriksen, Moutinho, etc).
His partnership with Diego Costa in the title winning season of 2014-15 was legendary, while playing off Matic to cover for his defensive frailties.
If he is provided the same insurance cover, he could turn things around via a legitimate plan B on the pitch, with just one shift in personnel. As evident in the games against Everton, Newcastle, and others, most teams will set-up to frustrate Chelsea.
With Jorginho not yet equipped with Pirlo vision, and with no Diego Costa to unchain the defence, it becomes crucial for an alternative game plan to exist. Cesc is also a more potent goal threat on the pitch than Jorginho is.
This will become crucial with important cup games coming thick and fast, where Sarri would be forced to rotate much more often. For his part, Cesc needs to be lesser error prone, and bring discipline to his defensive side.
This does not come at the expense of Jorginho, who can continue to be the primary playmaker. However, Sarri needs to be more flexible with the system, which he admits he already is, it just needs to reflect more on the pitch.
I still strongly believe that at 31, there are at least two more seasons left in Cesc at top level in the Premier League. He would be greatly suited to either of the Milan clubs, given the league favours his style of play.
For Chelsea though, it is crucial they realise that Cesc cannot be himself as a mere Jorginho replacement. They need to invent an alternate system with one switch of personnel on-field, and having Cesc Fabregas in their ranks is indispensable to keep the option of that system.