After his first week as a Chelsea player having seen his new team thumped by lowly Bournemouth and Watford, it would have been interesting to hear Olivier Giroud’s thoughts on his new situation. Having ostensibly left Arsenal in search of regular first-team football, the striker will also have been forgiven for thinking that he was joining a club with greater ambition and one more likely to add to his medal collection. Consecutive three-goal defeats might well have made him reconsider the wisdom of his deadline day transfer.
Any negative internal thoughts will hopefully have been put to bed following an encouraging individual and team performance in Monday night’s 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion. It was certainly an eventful evening for Giroud who missed a sitter, provided an assist for the opening goal and ended the game with his head heavily bandaged after being accidentally struck by Ahmed Hegazi’s stray boot. By the time his number was held up by the fourth official to signify his substitution, the new boy had done enough to warrant hearty applause from all four sides of Stamford Bridge.
In truth, Giroud didn’t quite set the place alight. He did, however, show Chelsea exactly what they had been missing in recent weeks while Alvaro Morata has been unavailable through suspension and then injury. The need for a figurehead leading the line was glaring against both Bournemouth and Watford where Chelsea’s diminutive front three was unable to make any headway once the opposition had opened the scoring. By contrast, on Monday night, the presence of Giroud allowed Chelsea to establish a bridgehead from which the rest of Chelsea’s attack could prosper, most notably Eden Hazard.
The two players were quick to generate some understanding on the pitch with their nascent partnership bearing fruit after 25 minutes. Some typically impish play from Hazard was complemented by Giroud who combined physical strength to hold off his marker with a deftness of touch to feed the ball back to the Belgian. The result was an exquisite opening goal that displayed intelligence, skill and incision. In short, precisely what is required from an effective attack.
That move and others in the match showed similarities to the relationship that Hazard has already struck up with Morata, the two feeding off each other to positive effect. The Spaniard is the more technically gifted of the two centre-forwards and is both quicker and more mobile than the Frenchman though they do share similar characteristics. Giroud continually demonstrated his aerial prowess as well some excellent hold-up play, two things that the team has desperately lacked in Morata’s absence. While Michy Batshuayi might be a potent penalty box striker, he is yet to turn his muscular frame into one that occupies defenders, which must be one reason why Antonio Conte was happy to temporarily swap him for Giroud.
Things did not go all his own way though. For starters, the £18 million man really should have been the one to break the deadlock when Hazard laid the ball on a plate for him 12-yards out. Whether it was rust or mere surprise at having so much time and space in the opposition penalty area, Giroud scuffed the ball straight at Ben Foster when it would have been just as easy to roll the ball into the corner of the goal. There were a couple loose passes under no pressure and of course he received some studs in the back of his head for good measure, though all in all he made a decent impression on his home debut, especially considering it was only his second start in the Premier League this season.
With the mood lifting around Stamford Bridge as Victor Moses and another gorgeous finish from Hazard put the result beyond doubt, the positivity rose further when Morata was introduced for Giroud for the final half hour. The departing Frenchman might have begged to differ considering that they are competing for the same place in the team but the sight of Chelsea’s record signing returning to the fray a week ahead of the Champions League clash with Barcelona was exceptionally gratifying. While Morata was perhaps not immediately up to speed, he exhibited little flashes of skill to link up with Hazard to suggest a brighter immediate future for the Blues. The 25-year-old was also only a wonderful Foster save away from scoring himself after curling a stupendous shot around a defender towards the top corner.
After finding themselves with no attacking reference point during their previous two nightmarish matches, Chelsea now have two genuine centre-forwards to call upon. Morata will justifiably remain Conte’s first choice but he will also know that, in Giroud, he now has a backup that he can trust.