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Jorginho tops Chelsea's new midfield pecking order; Cesc Fabregas slipping out of first-team picture

Jorginho tops Chelsea's new midfield pecking order; Cesc Fabregas slipping out of first-team picture


It is widely assumed that Liverpool will part company with Daniel Sturridge this summer and accept anything they can get for him just to remove his salary from the books. It is becoming increasingly clear that such a move would be a mistake, particularly with Danny Ings expected to move on any day now.

Sturridge has looked sharp so far in preseason and hasn't missed a session, though that should not really influence any decision on his future. Frankly, it means nothing. It is what others do that should determine whether the Reds keep Sturridge, and on the evidence of the three friendlies we've seen so far, it doesn't appear that Sturridge has anything to worry about.

Let's be clear: Sturridge's body will break down sooner or later. It does every year, usually more than once. It isn't a matter of if he will be sidelined, it's a matter of when and for how long. It might be next week, it might be next month. If Liverpool are really lucky, it might not be until the month after, but Sturridge, who turns 29 in September, will eventually pick up an injury.

This is why supporters have long since resigned themselves to the idea of offloading the talented frontman. Circumstances change, though, and if Ings departs, the best course of action for Jurgen Klopp might be to keep Sturridge around a little while longer. Even if he is only available for half a season, which seems to be the norm, that looks to be better than a full season of any of the current alternatives. Dominic Solanke might disprove that, but he might be better served playing regular football away on loan this year instead.

There will be clubs willing to take Sturridge, but none will pay anything like what a player of his ability is worth. It's debatable whether clubs will be prepared to pay any kind of fee at all given the certainty of injury and the inflated wages involved.

If Liverpool were blessed with top-flight-proven alternatives, it wouldn't matter what kind of fee they received for Sturridge. They could give him away and it would still make financial sense just to get his £150,000 a week off the books.

With Ings understandably wanting to leave for regular football, that leaves Sturridge (despite his fitness issues) as the clear No. 1 option to back up Roberto Firmino.

Divock Origi enjoyed a spell of great form at the tail end of the 2015-16 season, but that was as good as it got for him. He had a brief run of good goal-scoring form the following season, but the goals masked the fact he wasn't really providing anything else.

Last summer he fell behind Ings and Solanke and had to go out on loan. In a blog last week discussing Harry Wilson, I suggested that a good way for clubs to assess their loan players is to ask: "If he wasn't our player, would we be interested in signing him?"

No top club would be looking at Origi based on his underwhelming spell at Wolfsburg. Put bluntly, if he wasn't already Liverpool's player, they wouldn't want him. The Belgian needs a big preseason to prove that he has something to offer, but in the three fixtures he's featured in so far he's done the opposite.

Origi, 23, looks as though he's got everything he needs to be a top-class forward, but for whatever reason he can't put it all together and he seems to be stagnating rather than improving. Four years ago he was starting games for Belgium at the World Cup. This year he was firing blanks in a preseason game at Bury while his national side were beating England to claim third place.

As for Solanke, the 20-year-old has shown flashes of promise but managed just one goal last season and is in that difficult in-between stage that a lot of young players on the fringes at top clubs find themselves in.

He has big potential, but asking him to come in for Firmino without there being a significant drop-off in quality is unrealistic. Perhaps in a year or two he might be ready for that, but not if he spends the next 12 months sat on the bench. Young players need to play to reach their potential, but clubs challenging for honours can't provide them with the playing time they need.

Klopp convinced Solanke to sign for the Reds by showing him that there was a clear path to the first team. This is also how he persuaded 18-year-old prodigy Rhian Brewster to sign a new contract despite significant interest in him from all over Europe.

Klopp is a man of his word so is therefore unlikely to go out and sign a big-money, high-profile No. 9 to block the path of Solanke and Brewster. There's also the added complication that Firmino is an automatic starter and hardly ever misses a game. Whoever comes in is going to be an understudy, and that's not an easy sales pitch to make to top players.

The arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri at least frees up Mohamed Salah to occasionally fill in for Firmino in the centre, but Klopp will need more cover than that if Liverpool are to compete on all fronts.

Sturridge is not the player he once was and injuries have taken a toll on him, but ask yourself this: Who would you rather have coming off the bench when you need a goal: Sturridge, Origi, Solanke or Brewster?

Klopp said last week that signing Shaqiri was a "no-brainer." Unless Klopp has plans to sign another forward, with Ings likely to move on, keeping Sturridge also falls into that category.

The first signing of the Maurizio Sarri era at Chelsea arrived with the man himself at the weekend, as Italy international midfielder Jorginho signed from Napoli for a reported fee in the region of £50 million.

Jorginho's presence and importance to Sarri shift the midfield pecking order at Chelsea significantly, with some likely to face a reduction in playing time and others battling for their Stamford Bridge futures.

Here's a look at where each of Chelsea's midfielders now stands:

Having decided back in May to replace Antonio Conte with the mastermind of Napoli's thrilling Serie A title challenge, it's difficult to understand why it took so long for a move to bring the brain of Sarri's team with him to Stamford Bridge to be regarded as a good idea.

Jorginho will be absolutely key to the implementation of Sarri's vision at Chelsea, tasked with transforming a midfield that at times lacked creativity in possession under Conte into one that controls tempo and thrives on the front foot, even against elite opponents. If he succeeds, his coach probably will too.

Already the most prolifically destructive force in European football when he signed for Chelsea two years ago, Kante embraced the responsibility Conte gave him to make more decisions with the ball at his feet and flourished.

He now switches play with consistent quality and has shown flashes of imagination in the final third. In short, he has blossomed into a complete midfielder and should have no trouble adjusting to Sarri's system and ideas.

Chelsea's new head coach will particularly appreciate Kante's ability to carry the ball with speed and precision from defence to attack, an ability that could be key to forming a devastating complementary tandem with Jorginho.

He rarely showed his qualities in a debut season beset by problems, and while Bakayoko projects to become a solid all-around midfielder, no single aspect of his game stands out.

A three-man midfield lineup of Jorginho, Kante and Bakayoko is lacking in goal threat, so he would be well advised to focus on his finishing in preseason. He made smart runs when instructed by Conte to attack the penalty area, but once there, his end product was often startlingly poor.

Bakayoko doesn't on first glance seem a typical Sarri player, but until Jorginho arrived, he was Chelsea's most expensive midfield signing ever. Too much has been invested in him for one bad season to define his Stamford Bridge career.

No player will be more worried by Jorginho's arrival than Fabregas, who once again finds his status as Chelsea's midfield creator-in-chief under serious threat after he worked so hard to convince Conte of his worth.

He is unlikely to be a starter for Sarri. How big a problem that becomes will depend on how he sees himself at this stage of his career.

Conte reinvented Fabregas as a deadly impact substitute in the 2016-17 season, bringing him off the bench to pick decisive passes as Premier League matches got stretched in the closing stages. It was spectacularly effective; Fabregas contributed 12 assists despite starting only 13 games.

Embracing that supporting role again is the best chance Fabregas has of making himself valuable to Sarri.

Another player who, like Bakayoko, feels like he is still waiting for his Chelsea career to start, Barkley was a helpless bystander to last season's Premier League unravelling. At long last, though, he appears fully healthy and will be desperate to impress Sarri in preseason.

The pace, power and technique that have intrigued ever since his emergence as a teenager at Everton remain. Barkley has all the tools to flourish under the new regime and establish himself as the penalty area threat in Sarri's midfield, as long as he can find a way to curb his worst impulses with the ball at his feet.

Chelsea remain adamant that Loftus-Cheek is not for sale at any price, but another Premier League loan this summer feels inevitable.

There will be no shortage of interest after the power and poise he displayed for England at the World Cup, and there will be plenty of frustration from Chelsea supporters that obstacles keep being placed in the way of his career at Stamford Bridge.

Loftus-Cheek rightly sees himself as a starter now, but Sarri will not be able to offer such guarantees. One more loan would at least give him the chance to prove his point with force and, just as importantly, show that his body can stand up to the rigours of top-level football.

His arrival from Leicester City last summer felt underwhelming at the time, and one spectacular goal against a disinterested Stoke City aside, Drinkwater's start to life at Chelsea has been utterly forgettable. Toward the end of last season, Conte stopped mentioning him in news conferences.

Perhaps a change of coach will be the making of him at Stamford Bridge, but the early signs are not good. Drinkwater is further down the midfield pecking order than ever, and there are already suggestions that Chelsea are keen to offload him, though they can forget recouping the £30 million they paid Leicester last summer.