Thomas Tuchel would’ve known he was taking a risk. The German is far too thorough not to have appreciated that when picking his 23-man squad for Chelsea’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against Porto.
But the Blues head coach was favouring experience over youthful exuberance. So rather than take Billy Gilmour as a fourth central midfield, Tuchel oped to include a third left-back, Emerson Palmieri, in the travelling party.
N’Golo Kante wasn’t 100% fit. No matter. Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho started in the first leg and proved they could handle whatever the Portuguese giants had to offer.
That was the plan. Tuchel confirmed as much ahead of tonight’s match. “I’d have loved to have the choice to have N’Golo from the bench to be 100% sure that he could finish the game,” the 47-year-old explained.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as the Chelsea boss hoped. In the final training session ahead of the clash in Seville, Kovacic’s hamstring tightened. He wouldn’t be able to feature.
Tuchel was forced to start Kante, who even when half-fit is still one of the world’s finest midfielders. But there was extra pressure on Jorginho to step up, to command the midfield, to control the game.
The Italian has often been a lightning rod for criticism during his time at Stamford Bridge. There is rarely any middle ground between his supporters and detractors.
Yet even the most ardent of skeptics can’t deny the fact Jorginho delivered for the Blues in their biggest game of the season (so far).
In an awfully scrappy first half, it was the Chelsea No.5 who was composed on the ball, who was able to break through the Porto press with his passing.
The 29-year-old was also good without the ball too. Jorginho either dropped off to cut passing avenues and frustrate the ‘visitors’ or was quick to make a challenge, fair or foul, to stop an opponent progressing into the Blues’ defensive third.
Jorginho continued in the same fashion in the second half. Alongside Kante, who did complete the 90 minutes despite concerns over his hamstring, he helped close off space in the centre of midfield.
Porto were often forced out wide and slung hopeful crosses into the box, which were largely dealt with by Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta, and Thiago Silva. The only one that wasn’t resulted in Mehdi Taremi scoring a spectacular overhead kick in added time.
That goal came far too late for Sergio Conceicao’s side. Chelsea had, just about, done the job that was required of them. Jorginho played a big part in that.
Per Whoscored, he led the Blues in tackles (8) – the next highest was Reece James (3) – and was only second to Ben Chilwell when it came to interceptions (2). He also 86.2% of his passes, third among the Chelsea players who started the contest.
Jorginho will never be universally popular among the Chelsea fanbase. And there will be games in which he struggles, his lack of mobility and physicality can ruthlessly be exposed by the right opponent.
Yet the Italian international proved this evening he can help the Blues on the biggest stage. He will to be back in the spotlight in the semi-finals.