Throughout his prestigious career, Jorginho has forever been criminally underrated. When moving to Chelsea under the influence of Maurizio Sarri, Jorginho repeatedly became the subject of media conversation over his role in not providing the same defensive gusto as N’Golo Kante, even though he was never meant to. The conversation sparked a new role for Kante that he still plays in to this day, where the Italian midfielder continues to operate as a quintessential ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’ (DLP) for the team. Not only that, but it helped to reshape and restructure the conversation about defensive midfielders in the modern game, and the importance of finding players that fit together within a functional midfield unit. Chelsea have done a lot right over the past few years, but the balance they’ve struck in midfield between Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic has been one of the key highlights.
But now, as Jorginho approaches the age of 31, Chelsea can begin considering long-term-replacements for their criminally underrated star. Here is our quest to find the next coming of Jorginho in Chelsea’s long-term scheme.
JORGINHO’S STYLE OF PLAY + CRITERIAEmbed from Getty Images
Jorginho operates as a quintessential ‘regista’ for Chelsea, also known as a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’. This means that rather than holding a motorbike defensive role for his team, he maintains a more integral influence in possession, dictating the tempo, spreading long passes over the top, switching play left to right, and pulling the strings from deep. He’s defined the role at Chelsea so well that you could even begin to call it the ‘Jorginho role’.
Often lambasted for his lack of mobility out of possession, it can be easy to forget just how incredible the Brazilian-born midfielder moves the ball around the field, with an air of effortless swagger and bravado. This is by no means an easy role to fulfill, exemplified by the fact that very few professional clubs even have one in their ranks. Jorginho made nearly 13 passes under pressure per 90 last season, which ranks in the top 2% of defensive midfielders in the world of football. His Italian teammate Marco Verratti unsurprisingly topped that list at over 16 passes under pressure per 90, suggesting there is perhaps something in the Italian blood that allows ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers’ to thrive.Embed from Getty Images
As the Jorginho role requires a high degree of tactical intelligence and a profound game understanding, it’s often one that players grow into with experience. The best of the art may already be approaching 30 themselves, having gone through a similar process of refining their passing techniques and honing in on their brilliant vision in place of weaker characteristics. Since we want our Jorginho replacement to stick around for a number of seasons, we’ve limited our search to players under the age of 27 years old. The natural heir may be 21-year-old Billy Gilmour, but he is still yet to fully establish himself as a Premier League ready midfielder. So with that, we’ve expanded our search to all defensive midfielders across Europe, with a particular emphasis towards those that have already established themselves in a top-five league.Embed from Getty Images
In order to feature as a perfect Jorginho replacement, players should possess a sound technical proficiency on the ball, extending to both short and long passes. They should also provide the tactical nous and IQ to pull off their technical efficiencies, allowing their team to maintain control. They don’t have to be particularly defensively minded, although it would be a bonus for the player to have a high defensive IQ in regards to positioning and anticipation – where Jorginho so often thrives. They don’t have to be quick, robust, aggressive or even versatile. Instead, they must be capable of contributing to the attack through finding the right moments to display progressive passes, passes into the penalty area and creating chances for their teammates. But even if they ignore the chance creation, assist-making side of the game, they must simply be capable of holding down a deeper role for their team, where they can thrive in setting the tempo and ‘playmaking’ from deep.
With that criteria in mind, we’ve identified ten potential replacements for Jorginho, beyond the natural heir that may come in the form of Billy Gilmour.
TEMPO SETTING & BUILD-UPEmbed from Getty Images
One of the most paramount tasks of any regista is to continuously create space off the ball to facilitate build-up and progression. The ‘DLP’ must then not only possess sound technical proficiencies on the ball, but an astute awareness of space off the ball. Continuous scanning of the field, and a clever understanding of teammates plays a massive role in the success of a player like Jorginho, allowing the team to overcome opposition presses.Embed from Getty Images
We aim to assess all of these characteristics in the wider umbrella of ‘Tempo Setting’ and ‘facilitation of build-up’, allowing us to identify players that would thrive under the metaphorical pressure of the Chelsea crowd, and the literal pressure of the opposition. Here is how they compare.
|PLAYER||Touch||Def 1/3||Pass C.||Long P.C.||SWP||Prog C.|
Since we want our ‘DLP’s’ to be not only capable ball-maneuverers but highly influential facilitators of build-up, we’ve analyzed their total number of touches, touches in the defensive third, passes completed, long passes completed, switches of play and progressive carries all on a per 90 basis. Jorginho stands out across the board apart from his number of long passes and switches of play, which allows Chelsea to find someone who could even act as an upgradable option out from the back. Fabian Ruiz then emerges as the clear candidate, with his exceptional long passing percentage of 83.2%, completing 10.5 per 90 in 2021-22 for Spalletti’s side.Embed from Getty Images
Sassuolo’s Maxime Lopez also emerges as a steady presence, dropping into the defensive third to complete 25.9 touches in his own third per 90. While this is not a perfect stat in assessing build-up touches in isolation, it does provide a useful reference to the number of times a player may be helping facilitate their team’s ability to progress through the thirds from a ‘deeper’ position.
|PLAYER||Pass %||Long P %||Pass Press||Dis.||Mis.||Rec %|
But the difficulty of replacing Jorginho can again be illustrated by the fact that he is one of the best at the art when it comes to maintaining a sense of cruise control for his team. No player in our scope had fewer miscontrols in 2021-22 than the Italian, on just 0.47 per 90. The heir to throne in Billy Gilmour also emerges here as another smooth operator, albeit on a significantly lower passing percentage. The Scottish midfielder often plays it cool and had much less pressure on his back at Norwich last season, yet his table topping figure of 0.58 times dispossessed per 90 speaks volumes, and certainly contributed to his ability to complete 4.71 switches of play per 90.Embed from Getty Images
But once more, it’s worth recognizing that it’s Jorginho’s exceptional ability to receive and play under pressure that separates him from 99% of the midfielders in the world. This will perhaps be the key to unlocking safe candidates to consider, and those that might not be ready to meet Chelsea’s high expectations.
When it comes to playing under pressure, one of the most essential build-up characteristics, there are very few that excel to the level of Chelsea’s star defensive midfielder. Jorginho rarely miscontrols passes, he’s rarely dispossessed, and he receives passes with a higher frequency of success than all but one of the players in our scope. Simultaneously, he’s cool as a cucumber under pressure, completing 12.8 passes under pressure per 90 last season. Only Fabian Ruiz can compare on the basis of smoothness and control, which truly sets Jorginho apart.Embed from Getty Images
Despite operating in that league of his own, many of our players still boast impressive numbers. Locatelli, Rice, Lopez and Gilmour all made themselves difficult to dispossess in 2021-22, even if they lacked in the same total number of passes under pressure as Caqueret, Bennacer, Rovella and Tielemans. In some cases, that can be a function of the team and their level of dominance and control. Rice’s numbers for example will be skewed in light of his team keeping just 47.4% possession last season.Embed from Getty Images
With Rovella being just 20-years-old, his numbers also pop on the page, having completed a significant amount of passes under pressure, and rarely ever miscontrolling the ball. After refining his tactical nous with age, the young Italian could easily grow into a player of Jorginho or Ruiz’s quality – one that rarely ever finds their pocket picked by an opposition player.
PROGRESSIVENESS & CREATIONEmbed from Getty Images
An underrated facet of Jorginho’s game, the ‘DLP’ must be a capable progressor of the ball, and a solid chance creator. We recently analyzed Jorginho’s glorious ball over the top in this article, which perfectly signifies the Italian’s steady set of eyes that allow him to create chances on the drop of a dime. But Jorginho’s astute ability to pick out a pass is again matched by the tactical knowhow of when to make the killer pass. He’s not just pumping long-balls forward without any reference points, hoping that Chelsea’s dreams will come true through his wizarding wand alone. Instead, he’s using all the tools in his toolbox, including his Marauder’s Map to uncover secrets unknown to others.Embed from Getty Images
This may not always translate in assists per se, but Jorginho ranks within the top 5% of midfielders for ‘passes into the final third’, the top 7% of ‘passes into the penalty area’ and the top 4% on through-balls. This means that while the Italian does not always create goals, he is a highly creative player capable of playing his part in attacking phases. Any Jorginho replacement must also be capable of doing the same.
|PLAYER||G+A||SCA||KP||Pass 1/3||PPA||Prog P|
Before diving into the analysis, it’s worth noting that certain players are asked to play a different, more attack-minded role for their team than Jorginho, such as Youri Tielemans and Ismael Bennacer, who are frequently asked to go box-to-box. It’s then unsurprising that Tielemans and Bennacer rank toward the top on key passes, progressive passes, and shot-creating-actions. But the one outstanding outlier is 20-year-old Nicolo Rovella, who completed nearly 2 key passes and 3.31 shot-creating actions per 90 last season for Genoa. This in part makes up for his lack of progressive passing numbers and his low passing percentage, making him an intriguing option in the chance creation department if nothing else.Embed from Getty Images
Fabian Ruiz meanwhile remains an impressive performer once more, ranking toward the top in every category, and topping the table on goals + assists. Much of Jorginho’s goals come from the spot, but this is still an important side of his game that will need to be considered. He famously ended the 2020-21 season as Chelsea’s top scorer in the league on just 7 goals, prompting the Blues to splash €113 million on Romelu Lukaku. If Fabian Ruiz can replace that side of Jorginho’s game, while providing an upgrade on progressive passing, long passing and chance creation, Chelsea are bound to take their game to new heights. That said, put Declan Rice in a possession-based team and position him as a ‘DLP’, and just watch what happens.
defensive iqEmbed from Getty Images
The defensive side of the game is one that is typically either ignored or completely overblown when it comes to the role of a ‘DLP’. In truth, while defending is not their primary task, players of the Jorginho mould must still be solid defenders, capable of holding their position, defending in transition, and pulling off successful pressures and tackles.Embed from Getty Images
We often mistake a lack of mobility for a lack of work rate, desire or even defensive quality, all of which cannot correlate to Jorginho. Perhaps not to the same extent as the mobile motorbikes alongside him in N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic, but Jorginho more than handles his own in defensive transitions. He’s often perfectly positioned to stop counter attacks, and astutely aware of how to screen passes into the opposition’s striker. This is where that constant scanning takes centre-fold once more, as the Italian is always aware of his surroundings in relation to the four elements of the game. He then utilizes that knowledge and his own tactical IQ to make sound judgements about his positioning, where he can go on to boast some of the most impressive defensive stats in the game, even in a possession-based side.Embed from Getty Images
Jorginho made 5.34 tackles + interceptions in the last 365 days, ranking in the 89th percentile of midfielders, and accumulated a successful percentage of 35.5%, ranking in the 92nd percentile. As already noted, it’s his interception numbers that stand out in particular, showcasing his formidable quality to accurately assess his surroundings and position his body accordingly. Players like Jorginho may get done for pace on the highest, most pressurized moments where it seems to matter most. But over-archingly, a player like Jorginho completely makes up for his lack of pace in positional sense, astute awareness of his surroundings, and tactical nous. Just ask Italy at the Euros last summer.Embed from Getty Images
In assessing ‘Defensive IQ’, we ran a statistical comparison in seven categories: tackles + interceptions, tackle percentage, pressure percentage, recoveries, fouls, number of times dribbled past, and pressures in the middle third, all on a per 90 basis. While less about IQ on that last one, we chose to include pressures in the middle third due to Chelsea’s intense pressing style under Thomas Tuchel, with the recognition that a Jorginho replacement will be responsible for urging the team on and aiding in the press.
|PLAYER||Tkl + Int.||Tkl %||Press %||Prs. Mid. 1/3||Fls.||Drb. Past||Recov.|
When comparing defensive numbers, it’s no surprise to see the most mobile of midfielders with the highest numbers. Maxence Caqueret, Ismael Bennacer and Declan Rice shoot toward the top, possessing enough engine and gusto to roam around the pitch as they please. But this can sometimes come at a cost. Caqueret for example is undoubtedly aggressive and fearless, but he also made himself the easiest to dribble past within Lyon’s high-press last season. This may not be overly concerning for Chelsea given Jorginho’s track record of being dribbled past over 2 times per game in 2021-22, but if you can replace all levels of the game in one swift move, why not make it happen?Embed from Getty Images
Jorginho can sometimes be called ‘lazy’ in defensive phases through that lack of mobility we’ve mentioned, which again showcases Ruiz to be the perfect replacement. He caused just 0.79 fouls per 90 last season, whilst accumulating a pressure percentage of 33.2%. He’s no Salih Özcan, but when you combine his strong defensive appetite with a stellar ability on the ball to play progressive passes and read the game, you get a match made in heaven when it comes to replacing Jorginho. The same could again be said of Declan Rice, who’s already proven himself to be an absolute rock for both club and country at the highest level.
THE VERDICTEmbed from Getty Images
When comparing a broad range of statistical categories, Jorginho’s style of play, and Chelsea’s needs within Tuchel’s system, Fabian Ruiz serves as the perfect replacement. He’s an exceptional progressor of the ball, a warrior in defensive phases, and highly influential in the final third of the pitch. He checks all the boxes of being a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’ capable of facilitating build-up, setting the tempo, and releasing Chelsea from the shackles of opposition pressure. Being 26 years of age, at the very back-end of our age requirement, it might just be now or never for Ruiz to fully replace Jorginho and spend his happiest years as a footballer with the Blues. Having come from Napoli himself, we’re positive that Jorginho would welcome the Spaniard in with open arms.Embed from Getty Images
If endeavouring to find someone younger who can learn the trade as Jorginho continues, Nicolo Rovella has proven himself to be an excellent candidate, in large part due to his standout goal and shot contribution, and decent defensive numbers. His ability on the ball will need to improve, but he’s already a smooth enough operator capable of warding off onrushing opponents and fending off pressure. 24-year-old Maxime Lopez would make for a decent choice himself, particularly as a player who makes the simple look effortless out from the back. But in challenging Ruiz for top spot, we have to again create a link between Declan Rice and his boyhood club.Embed from Getty Images
We’ve already analyzed at length what makes Rice such a special player, particularly in fulfilling a number of midfield roles simultaneously. But he’d be an exceptional ‘DLP’ for the Blues, even if that required him to be less of a progressive carrier, and more of a holding midfielder as others push on instead. Rice’s defensive numbers stand out above the pack, and he’s already surpassing Jorginho in a number of the most essential ‘DLP’ categories in possession. Billy Gilmour could be a useful understudy for years to come, but his passing numbers don’t quite live up to the hype of a Champions League winning midfielder. So as we conclude, Chelsea should be seeking the signature of a player like Ruiz, Rice or Rovella instead, as they work to restock and restore balance in their midfield unit for years to come.
So there it is! Finding the next Jorginho. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, Tactical Analyses, Transfer Market pieces, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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