Dele Alli exposes Chelsea’s reliance on Jorginho
The man-marking of the Spurs midfielder stifled the life from the Italian’s passing game
Spurs’ Dele Alli during the match against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
It was left to Spurs’ Dele Alli to lay bare a tactical approach which has punctured the optimism around Maurizio Sarri’s previously unbeaten start at Chelsea. The England midfielder had just stifled the life from Jorginho’s game, his energy rendering a player whose calm distribution is so key to his team’s approach flustered and, eventually, rather forlorn.
By the end of Saturday’s contest the Italy international actually felt more of a hindrance to a team who have revolved around his metronomic passing in contests where they have hogged the ball.
“They’ve had a new manager come in, they’ve been performing very well, and he’s a big part of them playing out from the back and dominating possession,” said Alli of his opponent. “He’s obviously a very good player, and likes getting on the ball, and we knew that. We thought we could stop that. We wanted to win the ball high up the pitch, so I was as close to him as possible to make sure we won the ball up high, broke early and created the chances we did. On another day we could have scored a lot more.”
The tactic is hardly revolutionary. Everton had asked Richarlison, their lone forward, to snap into Jorginho at Stamford Bridge in Chelsea’s previous match. The midfielder had duly been rattled, booked for a nasty challenge, nullified for a little over an hour and then replaced.
Alli suggested Mauricio Pochettino had not showed them that goalless stalemate as preparation for their own derby, but his instructions were still clear. There were times when Alli virtually man-marked Jorginho, the pair almost coming to blows before half-time. The Chelsea player finished the match, but completed only 43 of his 52 passes, his fewest in a Premier League game to date. All of which left Sarri confronted with a problem.
If he cannot find a way of countering the smothering of his linchpin, then does the club’s £57 million summer signing truly justify his selection? It did not feel so much of an issue while Chelsea were stretching their unbeaten league start to 12 matches, but it now feels pertinent to ask.
Jorginho’s inclusion, after all, has already forced N’Golo Kanté into a new role where, in all honesty, he still appears uncomfortable against the better teams, his new responsibilities detracting from the busiest and most effective defensive midfielder in the division.
Tottenham were more than happy to permit Kanté his possession in advanced areas, confident his final pass or shot would not wound them. Eden Hazard, upon whom Chelsea lean so much as an attacking force, was forced ever deeper in search of the ball. He limped away, though his “ça va” through gritted teeth suggested his bruised right ankle would survive another week.
More teams will presumably follow suit now in attempting to stifle Jorginho at source – it remains to be seen whether Fulham have the personnel to do so next Sunday – and a player who demonstrated pedigree in Italy will have to show an ability to respond.
He will not confront teams as well equipped as Spurs every week. Everything about their approach, through midfield and up front, was robust and aggressive, with Alli’s display so integral. It has not been the easiest start to the campaign for the 22-year-old. There have been niggling injuries to disrupt form, effectively costing him a place in England’s first-choice selection, and unwanted attention off the pitch, but class tends to shine through in the end.
His opener on Saturday was a sixth in as many games against Chelsea. Elite teams seem to coax the best from him.
“He was at his best and very consistent,” said Pochettino, who rather enjoys Alli’s spikier side. “He made a massive impact when he joined us but it is never easy for a young guy to be consistent when so many things happen – and many things have happened because he is so young. Sometimes he has done badly for himself. He’s still so young, but sometimes you need to control the character. He makes a lot of mistakes still, but we are here helping by being nice but strong too. We want to give him a really strong base and foundation to go on even higher.”
Maybe the slight tweaking of his own position has affected Alli’s form. “Obviously I feel like it’s been a bit of a slow season for me so far,” he admitted. “I’ve been playing well when I’ve played. I picked up some injuries, but I’ve been working hard on the training field and in the gym. I think my role has changed a little bit. I’m playing a little bit deeper, I’m not always thinking about scoring goals or assisting.”
But he will carry form into mouth-watering contests ahead, against Internazionale on Wednesday night and then at Arsenal on Sunday. Spurs, third and upwardly mobile, are a threat.