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Sideways passer or Sarri’s star man? Jorginho splitting the Chelsea fanbase

10:13 GMT 23/01/2019
Jorginho Chelsea 2018-19
After being lauded for his pin-point passing during the Blues' sensational start to the season, the Italy international is now being made a scapegoat

Like an orchestral conductor, Chelsea playmaker Jorginho doesn't get much time in the limelight when things are going well but he's the first to be singled out whenever those around him deliver a flat performance.

Last weekend's 2-0 loss at Arsenal certainly featured plenty of bum notes and, come full-time, the finger of blame was pointed squarely at the man that runs the show.

“How many assists has he got this season? Around 2000 passes, no assists," Rio Ferdinand sniped in his analysis on BT Sport.

"He’s not a great defender. Once again, in a game like this against a big team, he gets overrun in midfield.

“He can’t run, so, he doesn’t give you anything defensively, and he doesn’t give you anything at the other end of the pitch.”

Ferdinand was merely voicing the mounting suspicion among many Premier League pundits that Jorginho brings nothing other than sideways passes to this Chelsea team. 

However, the Italy international's role is grossly misunderstood and undervalued. Firstly, Jorginho is fundamental to Maurizio Sarri's gameplan.

Indeed, it was fitting that the pair were presented to the media at the same press conference last summer, after Chelsea had successfully hijacked Manchester City's deal with Napoli for the Brazil-born midfielder.

With Jorginho pulling the strings in the middle of the park, Sarri's Partenopei had become one of the best sides in Europe to watch, with their quick, high pressing and possession-orientated style of football.

Unfortunately, after a bright start to the season, Chelsea have become ponderous and predictable on the ball, with many fans now of the opinion that the fault lies with Jorginho, who personifies Sarri's philosophy.

The numbers certainly don't do anything to challenge the idea that he is all possession, no penetration. Jorginho tops the Premier League pass charts (2077) but he has yet to create a goal. 

Jorginho was praised by fans for his retention of the ball during Chelsea's 16-game undefeated start to the 2018-19 campaign; now, those same supporters are castigating him for not doing anything with it. 

Indeed, he was even booed by certain sections of the Stamford Bridge crowd after playing a succession of wayward passes in the unconvincing win over Newcastle last Saturday week.

Part of the frustration stems from the fact that Jorginho's positioning in the centre of Sarri's preferred midfield three has resulted in N'Golo Kante being pushed out wide.

When Chelsea were winning games, the use of the world's best defensive midfielder on the right-hand side was tolerated by sceptical supporters. 

However, doubts first surfaced after Jorginho was nullified and Kante left looking lost in the Blues' first league defeat of the season, a comprehensive 3-1 loss at Tottenham in November that prompted many pundits to claim that the Frenchman's many attributes were being wasted.

That evening at Wembley, Spurs ran amok in behind Jorginho, who found himself unable to cope with the physicality and pace of his opponents. Not for the first time, either.

Jorginho has been repeatedly targeted as a potential weak link in recent months, with Unai Emery the latest coach to disrupt the 27-year-old by putting Aaron Ramsey on him at the Emirates last weekend.

A clear blueprint of how to shut down Chelsea has emerged and most teams have the ability to replicate it.

Of course, Jorginho was occasionally man-marked at Napoli. The difference was that he was playing in a finely-tuned team accustomed to playing the one-touch football that allows players to constantly evade opponents. 

Indeed, the dynamic midfielder Radja Nainggolan has previously described Jorginho as his toughest rival.

“He always plays in tight situations and passes very close to him," the Belgian explained. "It’s very hard follow him and stop his plays. You get tired cause he moves the ball very fast but doesn't even move himself.

“You need a lot of energy to keep up with him and stop him. It can be hard sometimes."

In England, though, it is proving increasingly easy to shut the static Jorginho down. Why?

Fatigue could well be a factor, given he has started 22 of Chelsea's 23 Premier League games so far. But then, he has little chance of a rest, given Cesc Fabregas has departed for Monaco and a replacement has yet to be found.

“After 20 minutes, Jorginho lost a lot of balls. It is unusual I think," Sarri said after his side's 2-1 win over Newcastle. "So I think that he was in trouble, maybe he was tired, I don’t know.

“If Fabregas was on the bench, I think that in the second half then Fabregas would be on the pitch instead of Jorginho.

"Playing as a central midfielder in our team is not easy, we need to try and try and try in training with him.

“The player who plays in that position usually touches the ball about 120-130 times and so I think that we need a specialist there. I think that Jorginho is able to do it."

He can certainly dictate the pace of a game, albeit too slowly for some people. But, in truth, while it might be fashionable to make Jorginho the scapegoat for Chelsea's struggles right now, he is merely doing what is – and always has been – asked of him.

The real fault lies with Sarri and the club's transfer policy.

Mateo Kovacic, for example, is meant to offer far more of an attacking threat than Jorginho yet the Croat has proven frustratingly toothless and seemingly incapable of performing the role that Marek Hamsik carried out for Sarri at the San Paolo.

And it's not as if there aren't issues elsewhere. Chelsea are unbalanced going forward because, whereas Marcos Alonso pushes forward at every opportunity, the overly cautious Cesar Azpilicueta prefers to sit back.

The 'false nine' experiment has been a qualified success but it means taking Eden Hazard out of his natural habitat on the left wing, where he is both happiest and most effective.

That switch was obviously necessitated by the well-documented struggles of Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata in front of goal, while wingers Willian and Pedro aren't contributing enough offensively either.

Evidently, Chelsea's woes can't be attributed solely to Jorginho. It's just that as the focal point of 'Sarriball', his weaknesses are the most glaringly obvious when the team is struggling.

Chelsea are trying to sign a replacement for Fabregas in Zenit's Leandro Paredes but while his arrival would ease the burden on Jorginho, the Argentina international wouldn't solve all of Chelsea's issues.

Ferdinand is wrong about Jorginho. He is not there to provide assists. That wasn't his role in a wonderful Napoli side that racked up a club-record 91 points in Serie A last season. His job is to retain possession and then get the ball to others so that they can make something happen in the final third.

The problem is that Chelsea have problems in every area of the field. Many players still look confused by Sarri's system and the Italian always said that it would take at least a year for them to adapt.

Jorginho may be the poster boy of 'Sarriball' but he's not the man behind it. Therefore, he shouldn't be blamed for its present failings. He definitely needs to improve but, at the end of the day, he's just doing his job.