The Community Shield is nothing if not a narrative builder. The winners of the annual curtain raiser haven’t won the Premier League since the 2010/11 season, but that hasn’t stopped it being considered a significant statement to win the thing, especially by beating another team considered contenders for the league title.
Not that Manchester City needed to make any statements, but their performance did offer a timely reminder that in spite of any changes at other top six clubs this summer, they remain the team to beat in 2018/19.
While the excellence of City was expected, the first match of the season was always going to generate more takes about last season’s FA Cup winners rather than the Premier League champions.
REUTERS/John SibleyThe Community Shield is the first chance fans get to see new managers and new players in a competitive environment, and thus many people will generate their first impressions of teams and players based off the season opener.
With it being Maurizio Sarri's first game in charge conclusions were always going to focus on the London club, and particularly on any new players or those hoping to make an impact.
First day nerves
One such player was Jorginho, who struggled on his Chelsea debut. The former Napoli man was caught out by the Manchester City press a couple of times, and was part of a Chelsea midfield that failed to provide adequate protection for its back four, most clearly during Sergio Aguero’s first goal.
As Chelsea’s only significant signing so far this summer and — given he was a fundamental player for Sarri's Napoli last season — there’s a lot of expectation on the Brazilian-born Italian international to help orchestrate Chelsea’s stylistic overhaul on the pitch.
For that reason, it's not a surprise that there has been some concern following the Community Shield, in which he failed to impress.
REUTERS/Craig BroughIt would be foolish to write him off after the defeat to Manchester City — and there are extenuating circumstances to making your debut against the strongest team in the country — but the match does reinforce some realities about what type of player Jorginho is, and how he'll have to fit in at Chelsea.
Where Jorginho most overtly struggled on Sunday was in containing the City midfield. The Chelsea backline was regularly exposed and Phil Foden ran through unchallenged before assisting Aguero for the opener.
Kante a big miss
Chelsea were, of course, without N’Golo Kante on Sunday. With the new World Cup winner still not back from his summer exploits, Cesc Fabregas and Ross Barkley joined Jorginho in midfield. While both players have their strengths, neither have anywhere near the same defensive skillset as Kante.
Despite being a holding midfielder, Jorginho is a deep-lying passer rather than a destructive ball winner. For that reason, he needs another midfielder near him who is capable defensively, and in Kante he will soon have arguably the best.
But what role will Kante play for Chelsea next season? So far in England, and for France, he has operated almost exclusively in a double pivot. In these roles he’s generally played on the same line as a partner, albeit with said partner usually having more attacking responsibility, and he more defensive responsibility.
Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
But with Sarri favouring a 4-3-3, and with Jorginho set to play at the base of the midfield three, Kante will probably find himself in a new role this season. The Italian coach could opt to use Kante in a similar manner to how he used Allan for Napoli.
He operated as the right interior, and was a primarily defensive box-to-box player, offering energetic ball-winning and some third man runs while Jorginho and Marek Hamsik dominated the passing.
This would be a slightly more attacking role than Kante has been used to in his career, but through his time at Chelsea, he showed improvements on the ball and is by now an accomplished dribbler and passer, even if he’s not a natural ball player.
Midfield options this season
On the left of the trident there are a few options to be the third man in Chelsea’s midfield. Fabregas is perhaps the obvious choice, and he would add more passing quality to supplement Jorginho, plus the final third creativity the new signing lacks.
Barkley is also a contender, and Sarri has apparently taken a liking to him. The former Everton midfielder has the physical and technical tools to be a good player.
And if Sarri can give him a clear role and improve the tactical and mental aspects of his game, he could flourish in a role similar to what Hamsik played.
REUTERS/Toby MelvilleMateo Kovacic has also emerged as a potential loan signing for Chelsea. He has the quality, but a midfield three of he, Kante and Jorginho might be missing some final third creativity. If Kovacic does not arrive, however, the final spot would surely come down to one of Fabregas and Barkely.
This would create a balanced midfield three, with defensive prowess, a quality deep-lying playmaker, and a midfielder capable of contributing in the final third.
While Kante will have to expand his game somewhat in an interior role, he’ll still be most important on the defensive side of the ball, particularly given how Jorginho and Chelsea fared on Sunday.
Good things take time
Against City, Jorginho didn’t just struggle defensively. He was also part of a Chelsea midfield that failed to control the game or help to create any sustained attacking threat and was also caught out by the City press a couple of times.
While there’s no incoming individual fix for that like there is with the return of Kante, it’s worth remembering how big a challenge playing this City side is. Chelsea were soundly beaten twice by them in the league last season, and they are specialists at pressing and dominating the midfield region.
Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Clearly, Sarri would like to make Chelsea the same, but they are only in the very preliminary stages of their tactical evolution. It will take time for him to shape the side in his vision, and it will take Jorginho a while to build the same familiarity with his teammates he had at Napoli. The vast majority of the future tests Jorginho and his team will face will be far less stern than Sunday was.
It’s easy to make conclusions from the first game of the season, especially for new signings. But Jorginho has proven his quality in Naples and shown he has got what it takes to be the lynchpin of a Maurizio Sarri team.
There are question marks, there always are when a player joins a new team in a new league. But there’s no reason to be additionally worried after Sunday.