Sarri is Chelsea’s Composer But Jorginho is the Conductor

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Jorginho of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Cardiff City at Stamford Bridge on September 15, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

‘Sarrismo’ (or Sarri-ball), as Gianfranco Zola put it recently, is “like an orchestra. Everyone is playing their part.” The comparison seems rather apt: the quick staccato notes are penned by its romantic songsmith Maurizzio Sarri. The show-stealing string solos come from Eden Hazard. The metronomic bass is played by N’Golo Kanté and Ross Barkley. But Jorginho, the key disciple from the Neapolitan church of Sarrismo, is the conductor. Chelsea have given their fans the music, and the willing instruments, but it is Jorginho’s task to ensure they play in harmony.

What a beautiful tune they have begun to learn. Despite pre-season predictions of a slow start, as the players learned the demands of Sarri, Chelsea are flying. They currently sit among the undefeated of the Premier League and have scored six more goals than swashbuckling Liverpool. This represents a marked change from Antonio Conte’s pragmatic style, chiefly brought about by a change of managerial philosophy, and the introduction of Jorginho, both imported from Napoli.

Sarri is Chelsea’s Composer But Jorginho is the Conductor

A Crafted Symphony

‘Beauty’, when concerning the art of playing football, can take many forms. There is the riotous expression of the aforementioned Liverpool, all men harrying and all guns blazing. There is the patient meticulousness of Guardiola’s Manchester City, who manipulate and deform opponents into submission whilst finding the simplest, most elegant finish to a move. Who is to say there is not beauty in Neil Warnock’s dogged, scrappy, 1990’s back-to-basics approach?

In a crude, and perhaps unnecessary, comparison with the other tacticians at the top of the league, Maurizio’s ‘Sarrismo’ probably sits between Man City and Liverpool. The pressing is there, though not as man-orientated and aggressive as Liverpool. Equally, City’s intricate passing moves are there, but Chelsea’s use them as bait, rather than the focal weapon. The illusionary carrot, rather than the sharpened stick. And the man charged with directing these intricate moves? Jorginho, the man who sings from the same hymn sheet of his former Neapolitan pastor.

The Conductor at the Heart of the Piece

Jorginho clearly gets his foot on the ball more than anyone else in the Premier League. He currently averages 103 passes a game, fifteen more than the next-best player, City’s Aymeric Laporte. Often short and sharp, these passes on a heat map might look trivial and frivolous. But they are crucial. Sarri certainly think so, noting how “Jorginho is my reference point in how I approach the team.” There serve two main purposes, in pursuing the perfect form of Sarrismo.


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Firstly, they are used to draw opposition players into pressing them. In exchanging passes with his centre-backs, and two midfielders alongside him, Jorginho looks to draw opposition towards them. This was especially prevalent at Napoli where a centre-back duo of Raúl Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly formed passing triangles with Jorginho just outside their own penalty area.

In Hazard’s goal against Liverpool earlier this season (above), the slow, deliberate passing around Jorginho’s ‘regista’ position is less obvious. This is because they have just won the ball from Liverpool. However, this is a perfect example of Jorginho fulfilling the second part of his role in implementing Sarrismo; releasing his forwards via a rapid change in tempo.

He drifts into a small gap of space in between Liverpool’s counter-pressing attackers and, with his head already up, demands the ball from Kovačić. Hazard is already on the move, and Jorginho clearly feels this is the right time to ramp up the pace. Sarrismo is all about waiting for the opportune moment for the fast lateral movement. Here, he spots that Liverpool are in transition to defence and looks to exploit it. He slips it back into Kovačić, who releases Hazard, and away Chelsea go. Sarrismo at its best.

Scarily, There Are Still Improvements to Be Made

In what will alarm their rivals, Jorginho recently admitted Chelsea have a long way to go to perfect their grasp of Sarrismo. He noted how, in transition, “we could press a lot more quickly and allow fewer counter attacks.” Jorginho clearly has a clear and vast understanding of what Maurizio Sarri wants from his teams on both sides of the ball. In this regard, he may represent the most significant signing of the last Premier League transfer window.

As Chelsea’s players grasp the system more, and it becomes second nature, these improvements will come and make Chelsea an even more threatening challenger to Manchester City’s title. It might not be their’s to grab this season; the personnel in defence, and focal point of attack, could do with improving. And anyone would be foolish to suggest City will relinquish their grip on the title, such is the way they have swept aside everyone else.

And yet, who cares? After year’s of pragmatic football under Conte and Mourinho, whose beauty could be found in unnerving control, Chelsea are enjoying a romantic renaissance. Sarri and Jorginho are at the heart of this joyous expression of footballing beauty. And of course it would be a man with such Italian romanticism. From under a cheeky grin, Sarri mused recently that “at the heart of football, there is fun.”


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