Football Features

The winners, losers and line-ups if Chelsea actually swapped Jorginho for Pjanic

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:18, 15 May 2020 | Updated: 10:03, 30 March 2021

Juventus have opened negotiations with Chelsea over a potential swap deal involving Jorginho and Miralem Pjanic, according to reports.

Jorginho joined Chelsea from Napoli in 2018, following Maurizio Sarri to the Premier League in a deal initially worth £50 million. The Brazil-born Italian international endured a difficult first campaign in London, often bearing the brunt of the criticism from Chelsea fans unhappy with Sarri’s style of play.

Jorginho’s perceived lack of attacking instinct (he failed to make an assist in the Premier League till after Frank Lampard took over) led to links with a move away from Chelsea last summer. Juventus was touted as one potential destination, one that would see him follow Sarri to the Old Lady just as he did from Napoli to Stamford Bridge.

But Jorginho stayed and has thrived under Frank Lampard this season. By contributing more in attack and establishing himself as a key presence at the base of Chelsea’s midfield, he has won over the club’s fans. His partnership with Mateo Kovacic has even pushed N’Golo Kante out of the team, although injury problems have also prevented the Frenchman from operating at his usually high level.

Yet despite the growing bond between Jorginho and Chelsea, according to the Guardian, negotiations with Juventus have begun over a deal that would see Pjanic move the other way.

Pjanic has been at Juventus since 2016 but is one of a handful of players Sarri supposedly does not consider essential to his plans. It is also mentioned in the report that Pjanic, who turned 30 last month, was made available to Barcelona. However, that deal is thought to be dead because Arthur, the player they would have had to trade, did not wish to leave.

Paris Saint-Germain is another option for Pjanic. Their sporting director, Leonard, is noted as a fan while past rumours have suggested Chelsea like PSG’s Leandro Paredes.

Right now, though, Pjanic for Jorginho appears the most concrete proposition. In previous years, there would be little doubt as to which player was the more valuable asset. Pjanic made the 2017 Champions League Team of the Year as Juve reached the final against a backdrop of comparisons with Andrea Pirlo, a player who himself once listed Pjanic as one of the world’s top three free-kick takers.

He is the only player who reminds me a little of Pirlo.

– Fabio Capello, discussing Pjanic with Tuttosport in 2017

The fact Chelsea came so close to signing the actual Pirlo years ago should add to the allure of the Pjanic rumours. But, in his present state, is he worth giving up Jorginho for?

How do Jorginho and Pjanic compare?

When Jorginho stayed at Chelsea last summer, Sarri turned to Pjanic as his link between defence and attack, occupying the deepest midfield role without necessarily operating as a defensive midfielder.

In Serie A and Champions League action this season, Pjanic has played 29 times under Sarri, starting 27 of those games and missing just four. The 30-year-old has averaged 68.96 successful passes per 90 minutes in Serie A and Champions League action with an impressive 89.60% pass accuracy.

Pjanic has made 10.52 passes into the final third per 90 minutes – slightly fewer than Jorginho but likely a result of Sarri’s more cautious system – and averages 1.31 chances created per 90 minutes in Serie A and the Champions League, recording two assists (0.08 per 90) to add to three goals.

There isn’t too much difference between Pjanic’s output for Juventus and what Jorginho has been doing at Chelsea under Lampard. Used slightly more, Jorginho has started 30 of his 33 appearances in the Premier League and Champions League and missed just three games, two of which were due to suspension.

Jorginho has averaged 70.14 successful passes per 90 minutes in the league and Europe, only slightly more than Pjanic and at almost the same accuracy (89.47%).

The Italian international has been getting the ball into danger areas more consistently, having averaged 11.58 passes into the final third per 90 minutes. Creatively, Jorginho isn’t as productive as Pjanic, with 0.89 chances created per 90 minutes and equalling his two assists (0.07 per 90) while five of his six goals have come from the penalty spot.

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How Chelsea could line up with Pjanic

Lampard has tested a number of different formations in his first season as Chelsea manager, but the Englishman’s favourite appears to be a Sarri-inspired 4-3-3 with Jorginho at the base of the midfield.

The former Chelsea midfielder was quick to praise Jorginho upon his arrival last summer and made the Italy international vice-captain behind Cesar Azpilicueta, underlining how big of a loss he would be to the club.

Speaking in November of Jorginho, Lampard revealed: “I was excited to work with him, and from day one in pre-season, we had a possession game, it was clear his ability on the ball.

“What’s become even clearer since then, his attitude and what he does with the group, he’s driven. That’s why I’ve made him vice-captain. He’s one of those infectious players, he cajoles players on the pitch, before the game. I’ve loved to see the fans’ reaction to him.

“One thing a fan will always do – and I’m a fan – is that when you see someone giving everything, passion, drive, they will always react to that. You’ve seen that with Jorginho.”

But should Chelsea lose Jorginho, it would be fairly simple for Lampard to replace the Italy international with Pjanic – in position, at least. As he has for Sarri, Pjanic would slot into the base of the midfield trio, with the excellent Kovacic on the left and potentially Kante on the right should the Frenchman re-find his form.

Lampard’s secondary formation, when sticking with four at the back, isn’t too different from the 4-3-3, pushing one of the midfielders forward to make a 4-2-3-1. Again, Pjanic would work as a straight swap for Jorginho, alongside Kovacic in the deeper two, with Kante the one to miss out based on performances this season.

Moving further up the pitch, Mason Mount is likely to hold the central attacking midfield position with summer arrival Hakim Ziyech on the right and Christian Pulisic potentially on the left – although Callum Hudson-Odoi is a ready replacement, with both Willian and Pedro out of contract in the summer.

One issue Chelsea fans might raise with this swap deal for Jorginho, or any new midfield signing, is what it would mean for the career of Billy Gilmour.

Prior to the suspension of football in March, Chelsea were having somewhat of a crisis in midfield, with Jorginho suspended and Kovacic and Kante injured. In their absence, against Liverpool in the FA Cup and Everton in the Premier League, Gilmour stepped in at the base of the midfield and ran the show for Chelsea, winning Man of the Match awards in both games.

Although Pjanic is two years older than Jorginho and should, on average, be closer to retirement than the man he replaces, the Bosnian will still represent a new obstacle for Gilmour in his fight to become a starter at Chelsea. Even at 18, the Scottish midfielder looks ready to be part of the first-team and Chelsea fans are pushing for that to be the case as they herald in a youthful error with the likes of Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham, Hudson-Odoi, Mount, Pulisic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Where Jorginho would fit in at Juventus:

During his season at Chelsea, Sarri received a lot of criticism for his stubbornness when it came to formations, sticking with the 4-3-3 whether it was working or not. And although he has allowed some minor tweaks to sneak in at Juventus, the Italian still very much utilises a base midfield trio – with only the positions of the attacking three altering slightly on occasion.

Whether playing a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2, Pjanic has been the man in the middle of the trio, carrying the weight of Sarri’s system and Jorginho would slot straight into this role should he join Juventus – a success for the former Napoli boss.

When the pair were working together at Chelsea, Sarri made it very clear Jorginho was his man, even over Kante who entered the season a World Cup winner.

“I want to play a central midfielder who is a very technical player, so for me, the central midfielder is Jorginho or (Cesc) Fabregas. I don’t want Kante in this position,” he said in November 2018.

“Kante, in the last match, wanted to solve the match after the first 15 minutes, but in the wrong way. He lost the position, he attacked too much.

“This one is not one of the best characteristics of Kante, but it was only in reaction to the difficulties.”

With Emre Can sold to Borussia Dortmund in January and Sami Khedira struggling with injury problems, a Jorginho-based midfield at Juventus is likely to see the Italian joined by Blaise Matuidi and Aaron Ramsey.

But Juventus are also blessed with other midfield options, and some players that might feel hard done by should Jorginho arrive at the Bianconeri. Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot have both found themselves in and out of the team this season although the latter has been linked with a move away from the club after just one season.