Of course, it’s not the first time it has been in doubt. When Maurizio Sarri left Chelsea to take over at Juventus last summer, many expected Jorginho to join him – as he did when the Italian moved to Stamford Bridge from Napoli a year earlier.
Jorginho’s first campaign at Chelsea had been a testing one, as the Italian struggled to win over sections of the Blues‘ support. As he had done so at Napoli, Jorginho featured at the base of Sarri’s three-man midfield, providing the transition between defence and attack – a decision that saw N’Golo Kante pushed slightly further forward.
Under Sarri, Jorginho played 54 of Chelsea‘s 63 games across all competitions, starting 50 of those. Just one of the nine games he missed came in the Premier League, with the Italian largely being rested in the Europa League group stage and early rounds of the League Cup.
Sarri’s faith in Jorginho is what turned Chelsea fans against him, however, with the Italian rarely being dropped or substituted following bad performances or when games clearly needed new impetus.
But things took a step towards the positive when Frank Lampard arrived.
Becoming Lampard’s driver
Despite all the doubts around his future last summer, Lampard was quick to highlight how important Jorginho would be to his side, noting the impact he could have as early as the first day of Chelsea‘s pre-season tour.
“I thought Jorginho was fantastic the other night,” Lampard said in August after Chelsea‘s Super Cup penalty shootout defeat to Liverpool.
“He was constantly talking to people around him and constantly talking to the backline to drag them up and playing with quality.
“The players are the ones who drive that when they get out there. He is a fantastic player. I saw that on the first day of training in Dublin. Talking about his attitude, he is a driver of the group and he has real quality. I am fortunate in midfield at the moment.
“It gives us problems in terms of competition between Kante, Jorginho, [Mateo] Kovacic, [Ross] Barkley, [Mason] Mount, Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] is coming back and others. But Jorginho has really shown himself to be a top-quality player to me already. He should be seen as Chelsea’s Jorginho.
“As a player, you know that you go and work for the club. He has a real passion for football and performance. I love that.”
Lampard further showed his faith in Jorginho by making the Italian his vice-captain, second to Cesar Azpilicueta, while also keeping him in the deepest midfield role – whether it be in a three or a two.
During Chelsea’s first 42 games of the season across all competitions prior to football’s enforced break, Lampard experimented with five different formations, but his favourite has been the 4-3-3, used a total of 17 times.
Using the average positions in the Champions League and Premier League, Lampard has continued to use Jorginho in the Sarri role, joining the two centre-backs in his own half, with the right-sided central midfielder (Kante) not too far away – almost forming a pivot – and the left-sided central midfielder (Mount most frequently) practically on the wing.
Even when Chelsea played a 4-2-3-1, or other formations boasting a two-man midfield that some might think Kante would be better equipped for, it was often Jorginho and Kovacic providing the pivot – making for an attack-minded duo with little defensive security. And, like with the 4-3-3, it was Jorginho dropping deep allowing Kovacic to advance up the pitch, using his excellent dribbling abilities.
Granted, Kante has had an injury-hit season, which sometimes forced Lampard‘s hand with midfield selections, but the Frenchman’s frequent absence from the starting XI led to some doubting his future.
And then football went on a break.
During the Premier League‘s enforced break due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jorginho saw his Chelsea future thrown into doubt for the second time, with rumours of a reunion with Sarri at Juventus entering circulation.
According to reports, Juventus had opened negotiations with Chelsea over a potential swap deal involving Jorginho and Miralem Pjanic. No deal materialised, with Pjanic instead joining Barcelona who in turn sent Arthur to Juventus, and Jorginho’s future appeared to be at Chelsea – or so everyone thought.
Jorginho was always going to miss Chelsea’s first game back after the break, away to Aston Villa, serving the second game of his two-match ban for accumulating 10 yellow cards in the Premier League. His absence saw Lampard make a bold change to his tactics, deploying Kante in the sole-holding role for the first time, resulting in a 2-1 win at Villa Park. Fans had expected Jorginho to return for the next game, at home to Manchester City, only he didn’t. And he hasn’t started since.
Jorginho before PL break: 37 appearances (out of 42 possible), 33 starts, 2,965 minutes, 3 times not in squad (2 suspension, 1 rest), captain 3 times
Jorginho after PL break: 0 appearances, 4 times unused substitute, 1 time not in squad (suspended)#CFC
— Harry Edwards (@harryedwards16) July 4, 2020
In the five games Jorginho has been eligible to play in since English football returned in June, the Italian has been on the bench five times, with Kante continuing in the holding role of a midfield trio when fit – focusing more on the defensive side of the game than moving the ball forward. Chelsea have won four of those five games, keeping two clean sheets.
According to Goal, the 29-year-old is unhappy with his situation at Chelsea and the recent games against Watford and Crystal Palace will not have helped.
With just over 10 minutes remaining against Watford, Kante sat down on the pitch, felling his hamstring – yet another injury setback for the Frenchman. Surely this would have been Jorginho’s time to get back on the pitch? Chelsea were 2-0 up and looked fairly comfortable, with Watford not creating too much trouble at the time. Lampard thought otherwise, bringing on Billy Gilmour, who had been in good form before the break but did fail to impress in the FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester City the previous weekend, during which he was hooked at the break.
Speaking after the game, Lampard insisted Jorginho was still in his plans and reiterated it prior to Tuesday night’s match against Crystal Palace.
“Yes, he has been very professional about it,” he said when asked about Jorginho’s reaction to being left out.
“He wants to play as every player does. It is one of the hardest parts of the job is telling a player who is not playing, or picking a squad and leaving out players. Particularly when they are not training well and Jorginho always trains well.
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“But he has handled it professionally and that’s what I would expect. It is important for players in a long season, with the competitive squad that we have, that they are there to support players when they are out, and he has done that.
“I don’t want to go into the personal details of positional and tactical. I just have to pick a team as I see best. They are just my choices.”
But despite hints about Jorginho starting at Crystal Palace, Lampard opted for Gilmour once again, further fuelling doubts surrounding the Italian’s future. And former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, who was commentating the London derby, believes Jorginho is being phased out of the Chelsea team.
“You have to think that he is being managed out of Stamford Bridge,” he said.
“I think it’s been clear from the moment Frank Lampard came in that he wants to build a young and hungry squad. Jorginho has barely featured for Chelsea since the season resumed, Look at the way David Luiz was let go.
“With the way Jorginho has been dealt with, it’s quite clear where Lampard wants to take the team. When you think of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp over the last few years, they don’t veer away from the plan for any player.
“Frank Lampard has got a clear plan.”
Although Jorginho did not start against Palace he did come on for the final 10 minutes, his first appearance post-break, helping to calm down a Chelsea side that had looked panicked and out of control – perhaps reminding Lampard what he can do.
Jorginho or Kante for 2020/21?
Moving past this season, Lampard has a big dilemma on his hands when it comes to his midfield. Already the Blues have added to their attack, signing Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, decisions that will have a knock-on effect on those behind them.
If Lampard has a fully fit squad to chose from, you may expect the Englishman to utilise a 4-2-3-1, with Ziyech, Werner and the excellent Christian Pulisic taking up three of those roles. But should Chelsea also get their man in Kai Havertz, if recent reports are to be believed, that would leave just two spaces in the midfield for Jorginho, Kante, Mount, Loftus-Cheek, Gilmour, Kovacic and Barkley to fight for.
One of those players would have to be a more defensive-minded midfielder, which begs the question of whether Jorginho can do it? Playing the deeper role for most of the season, Jorginho has certainly had his opportunities to prove his worth defensively before Kante replaced him. So how do the pair compare?
It may come as a surprise to many, but when comparing defensive stats, Jorginho actually comes out on top between the two – even when just focusing on games played at the base of the midfield in the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.
The Italian has averaged 9.68 ball recoveries per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, 1.62 more than Kante, while also making more tackles and interceptions on average.
Understandably, Jorginho also comes out better in moving the ball around, completing 73.92 passes per 90 minutes compared to Kante’s 64.16 – with a higher percentage going forward. However, Kante has created more chances than Jorginho per 90 minutes, at 1.44 to the Italian’s 0.98 – though he is yet to record an assist.
Jorginho’s biggest problem, however, is he only really fits one system – where he is at the base of a midfield. This is shown by his average positions on a pitch in the Premier League this season, very rarely entering the final third – or his own defensive area. While his role has been more of a passer than a shield, it shows the Italian hasn’t been able to be as effective across the pitch when Chelsea need him.
Comparing it to Kante’s movements, covering a larger area of the pitch – albeit in a more attacking role for large parts of the season – the Frenchman provides a more flexible option than Jorginho. He has also, apparently, worked out how to foul better than Jorginho. Despite committing 45 fouls this season compared to Jorginho’s 25, Kante has been shown just four yellow cards while Jorginho is on 10 – the joint-most in the Premier League.
This also speaks for Kante’s defensive strength over Jorginho, with the Frenchman better equipped to stop opposition attacks when they break, while his teammate is often caught out. What happens next season, for now, only Lampard knows. But the Chelsea manager has plenty of food for thought.