Chelsea have a make-or-break match in the Champions League against Lille.
The clash couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Blues given they are in the middle of their first major slump under Frank Lampard’s charge. Chelsea have won just one of their last five games, losing three of their fixtures since the international break.
In the Champions League itself the early promise produced by big away wins against Lille and Ajax has stalled after two draws, meaning they really have no form to pull on here. Chelsea’s lack of ‘bouncebackability’ has been a problem this season, and could be so again on Tuesday night.
What’s making it all even harder, however, is that Lampard seems to have taken his key midfielder out of the side. Jorginho was a frustrating player in his debut season under Maurizio Sarri but has taken his game to another level in Lampard’s side.
The Italian international has been supreme for Chelsea, when playing at the base of midfield he has constantly set the tone and tempo that has allowed Chelsea to thrive. Thanks to him the Blues have dominated possession and developed a silky smooth style of play.
Yet Jorginho was withdrawn after 72 minutes against Valencia with the team leading 1-2 (it ended 2-2). He also went off after an hour against West Ham even though the Blues were trailing 0-1 (it ended 0-1). Since then he hasn’t started for two straight games, only featuring as a late sub during the win against Aston Villa.
He was never called from the bench against Everton even as Chelsea were crying out for some of his passing skill to bring some order to proceedings.
The rise of Mateo Kovacic back into the form he showed at Inter, which convinced Real Madrid to sign him, has done much to promote the idea that Chelsea perhaps don’t need Jorginho. That it should be either he or Kovacic to partner N’Golo Kanté in the Chelsea midfield.
You can see the logic there: Kovacic and Jorginho have similar(ish) profiles, whereas Kanté is something entirely different. And when it comes down to Kovacic vs. Jorginho? The Croatian’s athletic prowess and dribbling skill make him a more obvious option (stylistically he is halfway between Jorginho and Kanté) especially because he is an accomplished passer and allows Chelsea to maintain their impressive passing and possession numbers.
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Yes, Kovacic is in supreme form and tops Chelsea’s squad for passes completed, passes completed in the opponent’s half and passes completed into the final third. But here’s the thing: simply completing passes and dominating possession isn’t enough. You need to make good quality passes that put your attackers in great place to perform. Jorginho does this, often for Kovacic himself.
Moreover, you need to control the tempo of games so that your defence isn’t exposed; especially when your goalkeeper has a save percentage of 56.36%. Kepa’s unreliability places a much greater emphasis on Jorginho’s ability to manipulate the tempo of games. And that is something Kovacic, with his relentless vertical energy, doesn’t do.
There’s a reason Chelsea excelled this season when Kovacic and Jorginho were paired together. Yes, Chelsea definitely lost the truly supernatural drive and omnipresence of Kanté, but for Chelsea’s style of play that isn’t the worst trade-off in the world. Kovacic, a stylistic bridge between two specialists, can better replicate Kanté’s presence in a game than Jorginho’s.
Chelsea are in a critical moment in the Champions League. The Blues sit third in Group H, level on eight points with Valencia. Ahead of them on 10 is Ajax whilst Lille are already eliminated, having just picked up a solitary point. The final matchday sees Chelsea host Lille and Valencia travel to Ajax.
In terms of qualification; as long as Chelsea win, they qualify. If they win and Ajax win, the Blues go through in second place. If they win and Ajax draw with Valencia, then Chelsea will come out top thanks to their win in Amsterdam. If they win and Valencia beat Ajax, Chelsea will again go through second.
A loss eliminates them on the head-to-head rule against Valencia, while a draw could see them qualify but only if Ajax beat Los Che.
Essentially, this is a game where they need a win. Not just for their qualification but for their season as a whole. And their best chance of bucking recent form and picking up that win is to bring Jorginho back into the line-up.
Whether that’s alongside Kanté or next to Kovacic in a recreation of the midfield duo that saw the Blues rack up seven wins in a row back in the Autumn is up for debate. But what’s clear is that Jorginho’s presence for games that matter is non-negotiable.