Call it persistence. Call it force of circumstance. Call it desperation. Whatever it is, Olivier Giroud is likely to be a vital figure for Chelsea for the rest of the season, whether his manager likes it or not. And if he gets firing, online bookmakers will be backing Frank Lampard’s men for the top four.
Giroud has found himself in a weird situation this season. He is the third-choice striker for his club, although the first-choice striker for the world champions, for France. Frank Lampard’s arrival at Stamford Bridge in the offseason last year almost spelled the end of the brief time of Giroud at Chelsea. However, with the club hamstrung by means of a transfer ban, Lampard decided to give youth its chance this year, while his approach demands non-stop energy and pressing movement from his forward line. At 33 and hardly one of the most mobile strikers around, Giroud did not fit the bill. It was no real surprise, then, to watch 22-year-old Tammy Abraham eventually become Lampard’s main striker, with Michy Batshuayi as the backup regardless of flaws in his game. Giroud had made only eight appearances for Chelsea in all competitions this year, just two more than he’d made for France. He almost secured a move away to Inter Milan in the January transfer window, with a defeated Lampard openly expressing his desire to sign a striker amid a slump for his group. The lack of Chelsea goals saw many a vodds member start to back other teams for the Champions League spots.
So, with Abraham nursing the most current in a string of minor injuries since he runs out of steam within his breakthrough year, and Batshuayi ineffective against Manchester United on Monday, Lampard was backed into a corner and chose to hand Giroud a start against Tottenham on Saturday. Together with Giroud delivering a goal and a powerful all-round performance, Lampard has a decision to make before Bayern Munich’s visit to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League on Tuesday. “He’s always been engaged, even if he’s not played regularly,” Lampard said of Giroud. ”I said it in the (January) window, he’s been absolutely fantastic with me from the start to now, and that’s why he can put in those performances when he comes in. Personality in the dressing room, on the pitch; quality to finish; selfless in his ways; strong. He’s been around, won the World Cup. He’s very good with the younger players around him, he wants to train at a high level every day, he understands his game, his attributes and how important they can be.”
It had been quite the list of attributes. And it begged the question: Why had Giroud been underused so far by Lampard? Lampard probably regrets that today. Surely Giroud has jumped over the faltering Batshuayi in the pecking order and has to be challenging Abraham to get a spot against Bayern. Selecting Giroud will imply Chelsea have to change their style of play. He will need busy, energetic, active midfielders around him to run on his flick-ons or to be nearby when he brings down the ball with his back to the goal. Do not anticipate Giroud to play on the centre-backs’ shoulder and sprint in behind the opposition defence. Bizarrely, though, that is exactly what happened in the 2-0 win on Saturday in his goal against Tottenham. Alongside Giroud, players like Mason Mount and Ross Barkley – playmakers who had impressive displays against a tame Tottenham – should flourish for that reason in case the Frenchman remains in the team.
Chelsea might be predictable should Giroud start, but he can be tremendously effective. His lack of mobility can be made up for in other areas, and the significance of his expertise cannot be discounted, even if Lampard clearly leans in favour of his younger players. “It’s been three months in the stands,” Giroud said after the game, referring to his most recent start for Chelsea – a 1-0 home loss to West Ham on Nov. 30, when he fought to make an impact. With his confidence higher and having altered the opinion of his coach, Giroud should have more time on the field.