This is not a song in praise of N’Golo Kante or Jorginho’s individual skillsets. There have been far too many of those already. This is more about a tiny occasion at the center of the Estadio do Dragao in the second half between Chelsea and Manchester City in the Champions League final.
Ilkay Gundogan, City’s central midfielder was given the tremendous responsibility of shielding his team’s back four from the onslaught of the Chelsea attackers. He was also asked to provide breathing space to his own creative players. However, he lost the ball for a moment when a pass to Phil Foden failed to reach its target.
Chelsea’s Kante had already got the whiff of it and was on his way to retrieve it. But it was the expression on Gundogan’s face that made fans understand the phenomenon they were witnessing.
Gundogan’s face bore the signs of him cracking under pressure as he twisted and turned his way in vain to get the ball back from Kante. The Frenchman had, by then, passed it dutifully to his teammate Jorginho.
It can be argued that Gundogan was played out of position, displacing the reliable Fernandinho from the starting eleven on the day. But his expression was enough to indicate that City were beaten.
Chelsea had only scraped ahead moments earlier by a Kai Havertz strike. But this article is not about Kante’s brilliance or Gundogan’s frustration. It is about how well the former teamed up with his Italian teammate Jorginho to decimate City in the Champions League final.
Jorginho and N’Golo Kante – Made for each other
Jorginho and Kante are two architects in Chelsea’s midfield, who make sure that the ball keeps ticking and finds the right pair of feet. Kante’s brilliance has already been showcased on numerous occasions. However, it can be argued that he would be without a limb, so to speak, if the Italian were not playing alongside him.
Jorginho was the traditional ‘regista’ who was brought to Stamford Bridge by Mauricio Sarri from Napoli in 2018. He had to fight for his place in the starting lineup at the beginning of his tenure.
With the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkley regularly pushing him for a spot, Jorginho found the going difficult. However, he has evolved significantly over the last couple of seasons to nail down a spot in the Chelsea squad.
Understanding the partnership that Kante and Jorginho have at the centre of Chelsea’s midfield is a little like listening to a duet. If the Frenchman goes overboard with his raucous passing and relentless duels, you can always find the Italian behind him to tone the pace down and bring heart rates back to normal.
If Kante is too audacious with his distribution, bringing the likes of Mason Mount and Kai Havertz into the fold, then Jorginho is always around to balance the play.
Numbers do not do justice to any artistic pursuit, but for those who are so inclined, we must get that out of the way. Chelsea had only forty percent of the possession in the Champions League final and completed much fewer passes than Manchester City did.
However, when they were on the ball, they looked assertive and poised to do something great. Kante’s successful pass percentage was a whopping 85 percent that night, which amounted to 29 in total. He also won eleven duels and lost only four.
Jorginho’s successful pass rate wasn’t too bad at 79 percent either, which meant that 31 out of the 39 passes he made found the right address. In duels, however, the Italian was worse off than Kante, winning only three and losing five.
It has to be argued that if the latter was there to recycle the ball back into possession, the former was always around to send it forward towards their prowling attackers. It also needs to be said that City’s Gundogan had a much superior successful pass percentage of 95 percent and made a whopping total of 80 passes.
However, his inability to shield his backline was what spelled doom for Guardiola’s side. While It is hardly fair to blame Gundogan for the defeat, fans should realize what a lethal partnership Kante and Jorginho have struck up for Chelsea.
Artists at Stamford Bridge
While Jorginho has been criticized for being caught in possession and for losing the ball too quickly, Kante who balances him with his razor-sharp passing and precise awareness.
Kante is the star of the Chelsea midfield and plays the first viola. Jorginho, on the other hand, is more than happy to take up the second fiddle to play a tune that is audible only to those who notice subtleties and nuances.
It need not be said that Chelsea could not have won without Kai Havertz’s goal in the Champions League final nor could they have established their presence without their defenders. The team’s backline put their heart and soul into the hammering they received from City in the second half.
In such narratives, the beauty of artists such as Kante and Jorginho are lost. On closer inspection it is clear that, without the duo, the Blues would have had no chance of shaking the foundations of Manchester City’s exalted backline.
Singularly, both Kante and Jorginho are ordinary players, but together, they become their opponents’ worst nightmares. They do so while smiling and playing their instruments with a ear out for rhythms directed by their conductor Thomas Tuchel.