When Chelsea sold Eden Hazard to Real Madrid in the summer and appointed an inexperienced manager in Frank Lampard, Chelsea fans all around the world feared the worst, and rival fans taunted them. After losing arguably the best player in the Premier League last season who contributed to 49% of all Chelsea goals (16 goals and 15 assists), everyone expected Chelsea to turn into the new Arsenal - at least temporarily.
To add to this, a long injury list which included the likes of N’Golo Kante - their best midfielder, and Antonio Rudiger - their best defender from the previous season, Chelsea fans had given up all expectations of having a successful season. However, three months into the season, Chelsea find themselves sitting comfortably in 4th place in the Premier League (only on goal difference) and 2nd in their tricky Champions League group (also on goal difference).
Journalists, fans, pundits have all asked the question - how is this possible? With all the odds stacked against the Blues, Chelsea are playing attractive football, appear to have a clear philosophy and direction, and have been improving defensively too in the absence of Kante and Rudiger.
Most people believe that the youthful energy in their squad is the reason behind it all, but that would be naive. Yes, the youth players have been performing beyond expectations, but they can’t be given all the credit as they are mainly responsible for the wonderful performances in the final third of the pitch - barring Fikayo Tomori’s emergence on the scene as Chelsea’s first-choice centre-back.
The real reason for the balance and stability of the Chelsea team has been the consistent world-class performances of midfielders Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic. Yes, Kante is by far the best player at Chelsea when fit, but Jorginho and Kovacic have done more than enough to fill the void that Kante has left in midfield.
Jorginho has taken over Kante’s defensive responsibilities. Nobody in the league has won the ball back more times than Jorginho. He has made 97 recoveries, with Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester City in second place with 89. Despite being a deep-lying midfielder, Jorginho also has the 2nd most possessions won in the final 3rd. This is something Kante would do regularly, pressing opponents high up the field in their own half, and now we are seeing it from Jorginho.
The Chelsea midfielder currently also leads the league in most passes completed by a midfielder (740), most through balls completed (8), and passes completed in the final third, thereby proving his worth to the Chelsea fans that booed him last season. He has been a leader on the pitch this season and has even been made the vice-captain of the side.
Meanwhile, his midfield partner Mateo Kovacic has taken over the ball carrying responsibilities of Eden Hazard. Kovacic has the highest dribble success rate in the league, completing 85% of all attempted dribbles. His ball-carrying in midfield and ability to beat the opponent’s press has helped unlock every opposition that Chelsea has faced this season, something Eden Hazard would do regularly for Chelsea. Though Kovacic does not boast the same defensive numbers as Jorginho, his contributions to the defensive phases and his impressive tackling have not gone unnoticed.
Neither of the two has displayed much goalscoring appetite but do a great job of feeding the forwards and picking them out in space. In the absence of Chelsea’s best players, the duo has shown just how well they complement each other and add a much-needed balance to a youthful, exciting Chelsea team.Published 01 Nov 2019, 14:00 IST