With a pirouette and a sweep of his right boot, Olivier Giroud once again proved to Frank Lampard how vital a role he will play in the remainder of this campaign, and potentially next season as well. His sweetly struck winner against Aston Villa on Sunday was his 3rd goal in 6 Premier League starts this season, and demonstrated his ability to find the net when Chelsea need him the most. With Chelsea embarking on a run of 9 league games in just 35 days following the season’s resumption, the Frenchman can expect plenty more game time, and Chelsea fans can expect plenty more high-quality showings from the World Cup winner.
Entering the season there was uncertainty over who would start in the centre forward berth for Chelsea. Young Tammy Abraham, however, made the role his own, with an impressive run of 7 league goals in 3 appearances before the September international break, leaving Olivier Giroud in the cold. A remarkable run of 10 consecutive games without being included in the match day squad either side of the turn of the year illustrated how out of favour the 33 year old was in Lampard’s plans. Below the struggling Michy Batshuayi in the pecking order, and with noise growing about a rumoured move to Serie A in January, how has Giroud so rapidly made himself almost indispensable to the club?
After scoring in Chelsea’s routine 3-0 win over Burnley in January, the strain of carrying Chelsea’s attack in his debut season seemed to catch up with Abraham. Up until then there had been occasional knocks, with Batshuayi deputising in his place, until Tammy was left out of the match day squad for the game against Manchester United in February. Batshuayi missed two gilt-edged chances, leading to him passing up the starting centre forward role to Giroud, and the Frenchman has started all 4 league games since, scoring an impressive 3 times and cementing himself in Lampard’s plans.
Even after such fine form it was a surprise to many that Giroud started ahead of his young English teammate against Aston Villa. The Frenchman presumably was chosen for his ability with his back to goal, an area he is arguably the best in the world in, as Villa’s extremely low block would require an awful lot of linkup play to unpick. Giroud duly obliged, putting in a vintage display. He managed to win 5 aerial duels as he successfully fought off the huge centre back pairing of Kortney Hause and Tyrone Mings. He also won 3 fouls, proving how much of a handful he can be to opposition defences. His sharp touches and intricate passes were evident throughout, most noticeably when he played a key part in the build up to his goal: exchanging a nice one-two with Mount on the edge of Villa’s area before cleverly pulling back from marker Hourihane, receiving the ball from Azpilicueta, turning, and firing in via a slight deflection.
Not only will Giroud be useful for sharing minutes with Abraham as the games come thick and fast, he could also be selected ahead of his teammate against the low block defences Chelsea often face. With three games against bottom-half opposition, Giroud could prove to be the key to unlocking stingy defences. As mentioned, his hold up play is outstanding, and he averages 3.1 aerial duels won per game, slightly better than Abraham’s 3, which could help when Chelsea need someone to take down quick cross-field balls as they look to create an over-load down one flank. His now legendary flicks and tricks could also be vital when providing the killer touch to undo a congested defensive line, something Tammy has struggled with at times this season.
Marina Granovskaia – a Chelsea director and Abramovich’s number 2 – moved quickly this summer to secure Giroud to a one-year contract extension. Although many saw this as a safety net for both player and club given the uncertain market in the wake of the global pandemic, it could prove to be a wise move on the pitch too. With Werner arriving at Stamford Bridge next season, he will join Abraham and Giroud as extremely capable number 9s battling for game time. However, at RB Leipzig Werner has been played in a two man strike partnership in 26 of his 33 Bundesliga appearances this season , often paired with the 6 foot 3 inch tall Yussuf Poulsen. The big Danish striker is essentially a more limited version of Giroud, played to win aerial duels and to facilitate Werner’s darting runs from the left. Either Giroud or Abraham could play in a centre forward duo with the German, or as a number 9 with Werner cutting in from the left wing next season, in which case Giroud could be essential if Abraham is injured or lacking form. Even though the Frenchman turns 34 in September, it is clear to see how important he is to this Chelsea squad, especially if they go deep in numerous competitions next term.
Not only has he impressed on the pitch, Giroud has also displayed an extraordinary mentality this year. When faced with transfer speculation in the January window, he didn’t force his way out of the club or hand in a transfer request, and when he didn’t get a move away he didn’t complain. Instead, being the model professional he is, he got his head down and worked hard to show Lampard what he was missing. Ultimately his goals have been worth 4 points since then (with vital strikes in 2-1 wins over Spurs and Villa) and by the end of the season that could prove to be the difference between making and missing out on a lucrative Champions League spot. His mentality and pedigree is so inspirational that it is worth having him around, not only to play, but also to pass on his experience to our current crop of youngsters so they can learn from one of the most accomplished players in the league.
With Champions League qualification on the line in a frantic run-in, Giroud could play a vital role in securing Chelsea a spot in next season’s elite European competition. He could also stick around next season and help the transition of Lampard’s young squad from also-rans to title challengers. Not bad for someone who seemed finished at Chelsea earlier this year! We should all be grateful for the Frenchman’s service, and appreciate him for staying put in difficult circumstances. Hopefully he hangs around for a little longer.
Written by Daniel New