Chelsea: Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic have always worked in the short term

RENNES, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 24: Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho (left) of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Group E stage match between Stade Rennais and Chelsea FC at Roazhon Park stadium on November 24, 2020 in Rennes, France. (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)
RENNES, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 24: Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho (left) of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Group E stage match between Stade Rennais and Chelsea FC at Roazhon Park stadium on November 24, 2020 in Rennes, France. (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images) /
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Chelsea has played three games for Thomas Tuchel resulting in two wins, a draw, and three clean sheets along the way with a vast improvement in possession. That last part is important because having so much possession is, in its own way, a means of defending. And it has defended the pivot of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho before.

The Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho pivot is not new. Frank Lampard used it many times in his first season when N’Golo Kante was injured. And while it is a fantastic pivot in its own situations, overall it is statistically weak. The ever excellent Expected Chelsea compiled this data months ago. A change in manager can offer a change in style that makes the pivot more viable, but the context of the last three matches needs to be included when rating the pair and the alternatives.

In Tuchel’s three matches, the Blues have had 79, 71, and 58 percent possession. Only Spurs in the second half really had a solid go at Chelsea but pin that idea for now. Both Jorginho and Kovacic, and especially in tandem, work well when the team has so much possession and is under so little threat. It allows the two to take advantage of their best qualities while having to deal with their worst as little as possible.

Spurs, however, began to pick at that when they came alive in the second half. Chelsea’s possession became more labored and the midfield was overrun. Were it not for the press or the wider back line, that midfield may have been an issue.

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Of course, the press and the shape have changed because the manager has. Tuchel has already improved Chelsea’s first line of defense and the last is naturally stronger due to the extra member and the width it provides. Both of these factors can cover for Jorginho and Kovacic if the possession becomes harder to control.

As Expected Chelsea showed over several graphs, the Jorginho and Kovacic pivot doesn’t really offer much besides quantity. Chelsea’s three opponents thus far have allowed that quantity and many have run away with the notion. Of course, Jorginho and Kovacic have had good games in the last three, but the pivot has traditionally had good games when possession is high but not when the opponent has something to offer to the game.

Much of this has returned, again, to the usual false criticism of N’Golo Kante. The biggest lie Maurizio Sarri ever said was N’Golo Kante isn’t technical enough. He meant it as the defensive midfielder but Lampard’s undefeated run showed that was nonsense. He’s been injured for Tuchel’s time thus far other than a cameo after Chelsea lost their foothold on the Spurs match. The Blues’ lack of control was falsely attributed to Kante’s introduction with the usual poor commentary points and the critics crawling out from their rocks to try to sell Kante.

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This is not to say the Jorginho and Kovacic pivot can’t work or that it hasn’t played well in these matches. It is just a call for context. The pair has done well before in high possession games. How it holds up to a team that actually looks to come at Chelsea is a different thing altogether. The evidence under Lampard was the pair collapses when pressured and that is the moment where Kante is needed. A new manager might show that all of that is different, but if nothing else, it is best to be patient before anointing the pair as the go to or pushing Kante out the door.