Chelsea has no rhythm without Jorginho

Jorginho is Chelsea’s metronome, and they simply had no rhythm when Arsenal nullified him.

The delirious Premier League encounter between Chelsea and Arsenal back in August was as unfathomable as it was thrilling. Saturday’s game was a great deal easier to make sense of. Arsenal manager Unai Emery had clearly decided that if he could stop Jorginho, then he could stop Chelsea – and he was proven right.

Even though Kepa ended up costing £20 million more, there’s no doubt that Jorginho was new Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri’s centerpiece signing over the summer. After all, he’d been the central midfield pivot during Sarri’s three seasons in charge at Napoli.

Today, Jorginho was shadowed constantly, first by Aaron Ramsey and later, after the Welshman’s withdrawal midway through the second half, by Mohamed Elneny. If Ramsey was out of position, he would bellow for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to deputize as Jorginho’s chaperone. And if nobody else was available, Granit Xhaka would come charging out from his holding midfield position to take over.

While this was effective in nullifying Jorginho — the first thing of note that the Italian midfielder did in the game was to balloon a shot over the bar from distance after 23 minutes — it didn’t come at the price of wholly sacrificing Ramsey’s considerable attacking threat. Indeed, Arsenal’s second goal resulted from a free-kick awarded due to an ugly lunge on Ramsey by David Luiz.

The problem for Chelsea isn’t so much that they cannot function without Jorginho’s ability to set up attacking openings with his incisive passing from deep. After all, we’ve seen in recent weeks that David Luiz is more than capable of fulfilling that role himself. The Brazilian center-back did so on three occasions in the first half alone today, creating Chelsea’s best chance of the game for Pedro in the process.

Instead, the issue is that if Jorginho is prevented from acting the as the fulcrum of the side, then Chelsea seem to have no rhythm. As we saw today, the talent contained in their squad means that the team will still have good moments, but they’ll tend to be piecemeal and stuttering rather than joined together and consistent.

Time and again, Chelsea found themselves unable to play vertically from their back-line through the center of the pitch and so were forced to go wide. Of course, sending Chelsea into wide areas becomes considerably less dangerous when Eden Hazard is being deployed as a false nine.

Having moved forward up the flanks, when Chelsea then tried to bring the ball back intro central areas, Arsenal swarmed around them and repeatedly regained possession. Midway through the first half, it looked as though Sarri was raging at the referee, but he could just as easily have been bristling at his own team’s impotence.

Yes, Chelsea had a little more joy at the beginning of the second half, but that seemed to be due mainly to Arsenal adopting a deeper block and a less intense press as they prioritized safeguarding their lead over adding to it. And it still took 81 minutes for Chelsea to register their first shot on target.

Borussia Dortmund suffered similar difficulties during Thomas Tuchel’s time at the club. The metronome in that case was Julian Weigl, and Tuchel struggled to come up with a definitive solution when opponents began to single out the young German international for close attention.

Thankfully for their supporters, the solution for Chelsea could well be close to hand in the shape of Gonzalo Higuain, like Jorginho a player that Sarri knows well from his time in Naples. The arrival of the Argentine striker would free Hazard from the burden of playing as a false nine. All of a sudden, channeling Chelsea wide, as Arsenal did today, becomes a much less enticing prospect.

Completing that deal could prove key to Chelsea’s season, and the tussle for fourth spot looks set to be almost as intriguing as the battle to win the Premier League.