Curious case of Jorginho: What has happened to Chelsea's 'leader'?

A key player for much of the season hasn't seen a single minute of action since the Premier League restart

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It was hardly a ringing endorsement for a player who has fallen suddenly and sharply down the pecking order.

Prior to the three-month lockdown, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Jorginho was an indispensable part of Chelsea's midfield: he started 26 of 29 Premier League matches, spending 2,014 minutes on the pitch. Of the three games he didn't feature, two were due to suspension.

Since the restart? Five games, zero appearances, zero minutes.

One of those absences can be attributed to the two-game suspension carried over from before the break, but there is no escaping the fact that Jorginho's importance to Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has dwindled.

It was brought into sharper focus when Jorginho was overlooked in favour of Billy Gilmour when N'Golo Kante limped off in the final 12 minutes of the 3-0 win over Watford.

The Italian could be set for a recall, or at least his first minutes since the restart, when Chelsea travel to Crystal Palace on Tuesday after Lampard ruled Kante out of the game.

But while Lampard praised Jorginho's professionalism during his time out of the starting XI, the Blues manager stopped short of saying if the midfielder would feature at Selhurst Park.

"He’s been very professional about it. He wants to play as every player does," Lampard said. "One of the hardest parts of the job is telling a player they are not playing, picking a squad and leaving out players, particularly when they train well – and Jorginho always trains well.

"But he’s handled it professionally and that’s what I’d expect. It is important that players, over the course of a season, in a competitive squad like we have are there to support players when they are out – and he has done that, to be fair."

Back in September, Lampard was gushing in his praise for a player he had made his vice-captain.

"He's a leader in his personality," Lampard said after Jorginho scored in Chelsea's win over Brighton. "He has been one of the leaders ... in the dressing room and on the pitch.

"I'm pleased with Jorgie and the young players need to look up to that attitude he has daily."

From a key cog in Lampard's team to a spare part among the socially distanced substitutes, what has contributed to the ostracism of Jorginho?

Primarily, it appears the consequence of a tactical shift from Lampard, who for much of the season had emulated his predecessor, Maurizio Sarri, in deploying Jorginho at the base of a possession-based midfield.

Since the restart, however, Kante – one of the finest defensive midfielders in the world – has been moved back to his favoured screening role to provide some support to a perpetually vulnerable defence.

Opting to fill the remaining midfield slots with energetic and high-pressing players, Lampard has chosen various combinations involving Mateo Kovacic, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount, the returning Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and the emerging Billy Gilmour.

Jorginho – with his excellent passing ability and desire to dictate play from deep, but lacking in speed and power – simply does not fit into the current system.

What it means for Jorginho's longer term future at Chelsea, only time will tell. Chelsea reportedly rejected a bid from Juventus last month that would have seen Jorginho reunite with Sarri.

The Italian champions have since completed a €72 million (Dh300m) deal for Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo from Barcelona.

But if Lampard does not view the Italian as the right fit for his system, then it will come as no surprise if he moves on this summer.

Should Jorginho depart, it would bring to an end a roller-coaster two-year spell at Stamford Bridge.

Lauded and revered during his first few months as Chelsea embarked on a lengthy unbeaten run, Jorginho soon became the target of criticism when Sarri's trademark 'Sarriball' became predictable and results started to suffer.

Jorginho won back favour during the late season revival that saw Chelsea claim third in the Premier League and win the Europa League.

He has since remained a fans' favourite this term as a "leader" in Lampard's young and exciting team. However, unless his situation changes, he may have played his last game in front of Chelsea supporters.