Dennis Wise has launched a defence of Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea selection in midfield and thinks people don’t understand the roles of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante under their new boss.
Chelsea had come in for praise after racking up an 18-game unbeaten streak this season, but have faltered due to back-to-back away defeats, which has led to the club’s midfield coming under increased scrutiny.
Wise is a former Blues captain and midfielder, playing 445 times and scoring 76 goals in the process. He believes that Jorginho has been a brave signing since joining Chelsea from Napoli and also adds that Kante is doing better than many have claimed in his new box-to-box role.
“What I would say is that I found that there’s been a lot of talk about Kante’s position and Jorginho and people like that and I think what people have to understand is Maurizio Sarri brought in Jorginho because he knew his ideas,” Wise told Goal as voting opens for Kwiff’s Sportsperson With a Personality Award .
“I think it is really important as a manager, you can put your ideas across to the players on the field when training is going on and try to constantly show them what you want with repetition, but then there’s nothing better than having a player in the middle who can dictate what you want.
“I think that’s a big plus. I think that’s why Chelsea have started and done so well, up until this period this season. I think it was a big, big call to bring Jorginho in and plonk him in the middle of the park. I think Kante and Jorginho have complimented each other quite well.
“Having him there gives Kante the chance to break through at times. I think what has happened is the other three midfield players; [Mateo] Kovacic, [Ross] Barkley and [Ruben] Loftus-Cheek, they are the three more offensive players who like to go forward.
“I think he likes having these other two more defensive players and then encouraging these more offensive players to go forwards and that’s the way he kind of plays. I think there’s more competition in that three than there is in the other two spots, from what I see.
“I think Kante and Jorginho are the first two names on the team-sheet every week. It is not about them two not fully clicking, I think they have.
The Blues’ first league defeat of the season came against Spurs at Wembley last month, with many of the opinion that Mauricio Pochettino’s side won the game by stopping Jorginho and Kante in midfield.
Wise feels Spurs deserve great credit for their game plan and doesn’t feel the loss was simply because Chelsea struggled in midfield.
“You have to give Spurs credit on the day. It is easy to pick faults, but you have to say: ‘do you understand how Spurs played?’
“What Spurs did in that midfield was they got superiority in that midfield. How they did it was very good. [Christian] Eriksen and Son drop in, Dele Alli drops in, push right on Jorginho and not allow him to get on the ball. The other two, [Moussa] Sissoko and [Eric] Dier, sat in front. It was a five against three superiority.
“What needed to happen was our two wide men drop in or our full backs push up a little bit more. They were caught a little bit half-and-half. There were other parts of the pitch that needed to be adjusted. We had four defenders marking one player [Harry Kane].
“Our defenders needed to be tighter and narrower [to help the midfield]. There were different ways we had to adjust, it wasn’t just Jorginho-Kante or just the midfield’s fault.”
Manchester City are up next for Chelsea, which could be a concern as the champions seem untouchable in the Premier League and sit 10 points clear of their opponents on Saturday.
Jorginho is expected to return to the starting line-up, while Kante is almost certain to slot in alongside him, but Sarri has been more erratic when picking his third midfielder.
Loftus-Cheek, Kovacic and Barkley are all battling for that spot and Wise thinks that after six goals in his last seven games, the former is proving his ability to play for Chelsea. He also feels that Loftus-Cheek should snub any January offers to leave on loan and stay to help Sarri’s side.
“Look at Ross Barkley. Last year you would have looked at Barkley when he first came to the football club that he is not going to get much of an opportunity, but the new manager has given him that opportunity,” Wise said.
“I look at Loftus-Cheek who is really pushing now. There’s a lot of speculation that he should go out on loan and I think, why? Why? He should stay and fight here. I think he has a chance of pushing to get that other spot, as he competes with the other two.
“Why would you want to go to a team like Crystal Palace and fight down below when you can be at a team like Chelsea and fight for a Champions League position and to win trophies? He is only young as well, Loftus-Cheek, he has got a bit of time on his side.
“I think what he has done so far is that he has made progress as well. He is looking good. I think it is important he stays at the football club and doesn’t go out on loan.”
Meanwhile, with Sarri’s team selections being pretty consistent in the league, there have been limited opportunities available to certain players.
Cesc Fabregas has mostly been used in cup competitions but started his first Premier League game in the 2-1 defeat to Wolves on Wednesday.
AC Milan are rumoured to be interested in signing Fabregas but Sarri wants him to stay to deputise for Jorginho. Wise, though, admits that Chelsea’s policy of only giving players over 30 one-year contracts may make it difficult to convince the 31-year-old to stay.
“Fabregas is older and I think he obviously will be looking for longer term contracts and maybe the club don’t want to give him as long [as he wants],” he continued. “So maybe it is a situation where you settle in the middle ground and he is someone who has good ability.
“He hasn’t played as much as the others because they are the first choice for now. So, it is just about getting the balance of whether he wants to be at Chelsea and not play all the time or seek a new challenge.”
With just four wins in their past 10 fixtures, Chelsea have fallen away from their initial spot near the top of the table with both Man City and Liverpool.
Wise says a Premier League title win was never on the cards and that expectations were overblown due to his former side’s strong start.
“They are higher than everybody expected them to be,” Wise concluded. “I think it was a year about changes of ideas in the way that Chelsea have set their stall out and played. They have played. I think it has been fantastic. Expectations are now a little bit higher than they were at the start of the season because of the performances.
“We are in a nice position in the league and we are doing okay in the cups, so what do we want at the end of this year? Are we going to compete with Man City and Liverpool? No, we are not going to compete and finish either first or second, but I think we can finish in the Champions League spots.
“Then in time we can try to compete with them. It took Klopp a while, it took Guardiola a while. So, this takes time.
“It is his first season. I think for his first six months, he has done extremely well.”
Dennis Wise was speaking as he launched the inaugural ‘Sportsperson with a Personality Award’, sponsored by kwiff – the only sports betting app where any bet could be supercharged. To view the full list of nominees and vote, head to: www.kwiff.com/swapa