After 60 Chelsea games, we can finally talk about Jorginho’s minutes-per-assist ratio, now that it no longer involves the mathematical impossibility of dividing by zero.
Ask your average* Sarritologist to account for Jorginho’s lack of assists after 53 games and over 4,000 minutes in all competitions and a Premier League-leading 3,118 passes under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, and they will usually tell you he didn’t have any assists because it was not his job to have any assists. This puts him in quite a unique niche as far as roles and responsibilities go, as Antonio Rudiger (a centre back) and Kepa Arrizabalaga (goalkeeper) were the only other players on the team with over 1,200 Premier League minutes and zero assists in 2018/19.
Remarkably, or perhaps not, Jorginho needed only 55 minutes in a wholly new formation – Frank Lampard’s 3-4-3 – to do what he had not done in the previous 18 months and over 5,000 minutes of football: he assisted a goal. When Jorginho said in July how “I am more free and can do more things with my creativity,” one wonders if he had a moment like this in mind.
Maurizio Sarri’s roles were as strict on the constraints as the restraints. Not only must the centrebacks make over 70 passes a game (the tripwire that ended Gary Cahill’s Chelsea career) and the base midfielder must take well over 100 touches a game (something that Sarri confirmed when speaking of his expectations for Miralem Pjanic at his first Juventus press conferences), but the box-to-box midfielder must not stray too far from Jorginho in an attempt “solve the match” as N’Golo Kante did against Tottenham in November, and the creative left winger / No. 10 must not deviate from the circuits in the final third in an attempt to score goals as the “selfish” Eden Hazard did repeatedly.
When Jorginho’s fans say it was not Jorginho’s job to make assists, they actually may have been watering down the truth. He may have been prohibited from doing anything that could potentially become an assist.
“Stay well back on the xG chain, young man!” Sarri could have chided him while swapping out cigarette butts.**
Before connecting with Tammy Abraham for the striker’s third goal of the day, Jorginho made two of his trademark overcooked no-look one-touch chip passes that went straight out for goal kicks.
These were the passes that enabled last season’s “stolen assist” vacuity.
If the striker wasn’t there to receive the pass, the striker took the blame for not being where the circuit – which Jorginho always knows better than anyone on the pitch – demanded they should be, regardless of actual game context. If the striker received the pass but did not score from it (and they never did), it was due solely to their finishing ability – not the weight, positioning, angle or context of the pass.
The plague of the unclinical strikers somehow uniquely afflicted Jorginho. And the finishing struggles of the strikers somehow carried over to every other player who received a pass from Jorginho. Alvaro Morata, Gonzalo Higuain and Olivier Giroud were not the only players who never scored a goal from a Jorginho pass.
Somehow, 16 Chelsea players managed at least one assist across all competitions last season and 12 did so in the Premier League. No Chelsea player came within 498 Premier League passes of Jorginho, but somehow everyone in that dozen made at least one that crossed the bridges from pass to key pass to assist.
As we said in February when Phil Jones earned his first assist since the Louis van Gaal era by making a 15-yard pass to Anthony Martial in the defensive third and then Martial went on a world-class run to score, Jorginho’s pass-to-assist ratio is as incomprehensible as it is mathematically incalculable.
But now that less than an hour in Frank Lampard’s 3-4-3 has him in the assist column, we can start wondering if maybe it truly was Maurizio Sarri’s orders and intent – and Jorginho’s comically literal compliance – that the r*****a is not there to make assists. Ever.
Despite the superficial similarities between last season and this season in where and how Jorginho and Kante are being deployed, Jorginho has been in a mostly different role in a very different system all season. The switch to the 3-4-3 removed any shred of similarities, providing a clear marker that none of the old rules apply to Jorginho.
After receiving the ball from Andreas Christensen (to whom he had just passed), Jorginho turned and looked up the field. He saw Tammy Abraham running into a 1v1 with Conor Coady, and sent the ball over Wolves’ entire midfield. Jorginho did not no-look pass to where Abraham was “supposed” to be or where Jorginho wanted him to be, but to where Abraham actually was and where the play was moving (he arguably played it too close to Abraham, sending it to his feet causing Abraham to have to stop and turn back to bring in the pass and then turn back to square up Coady). Abraham still had plenty to do to complete his hat trick, but Jorginho set him up to do so.
Truly a first time for everything. Only the next few games will reveal just how exceptional that pass was.***
*All Sarritologists are below average, like they’re residents of the bizarro Lake Wobegon.
**Sarri may have called Jorginho a more vulgar term, but he may just reserve his preferred vulgarities for female reporters. Then again, his flipping the bird to players in training caused the Sarritologists to swoon, so who knows.
***And that’s assuming Jorginho keeps his place in the side upon N’Golo Kante’s return, especially if the Blues stay in the 3-4-3.