The Giroud puzzle: Will Chelsea find room for a WCup winner?
Call it persistence. Call it force of circumstance. Call it downright desperation.
Whatever it is, Olivier Giroud is likely to be a key figure for Chelsea the rest of the season, whether his manager likes it or not.
Giroud has found himself in a bizarre situation over the past year. He is the first-choice striker for France, the world champion, but the third-choice striker for his club.
Frank Lampard’s arrival at Stamford Bridge in the offseason last year nearly spelled the end of Giroud’s brief time at Chelsea.
With the club hamstrung by a transfer ban, Lampard was determined to give youth its chance this season, while his high-energy approach demands pressing and nonstop movement from his forward line.
At 33 and hardly the most mobile of strikers, Giroud just did not fit the bill.
It was no real surprise, then, to see 22-year-old Tammy Abraham become Lampard’s starting striker, with Michy Batshuayi the backup despite flaws in his game.
Before last weekend, Giroud had made just eight appearances for Chelsea in all competitions this season, just two more than he had made for France. He was close to securing a move to Inter Milan in the January transfer window, with a frustrated Lampard openly expressing his desire to sign a striker amid a slump for his team, but it never happened.
So, with Abraham nursing the latest in a string of minor injuries as he runs out of steam in his breakthrough season, 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.
With Giroud delivering a goal and a strong all-round performance, Lampard now has a decision to make ahead of Bayern Munich’s visit to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League on Tuesday.
“He’s always been engaged, even when 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 was quite the roll call of attributes. And it begged the question: Why had Giroud been so underused by Lampard to this point?
Lampard probably regrets that now. Surely Giroud has jumped above the faltering Batshuayi in the pecking order and must be challenging Abraham for a starting spot against Bayern in their first leg in the round of 16.
Picking Giroud will mean Chelsea has to alter its style of play. He will need busy, energetic attacking midfielders around him to run onto his flick-ons or to be nearby when he brings down the ball with his back to the goal. Don’t expect Giroud to prey on the shoulder of the center backs and sprint in behind the opposition defense. Bizarrely, though, that is exactly what occurred in his goal against Tottenham in the 2-0 win on Saturday.
For that reason, players like Mason Mount and Ross Barkley — playmakers who had impressive displays against an admittedly tame Tottenham — should thrive alongside Giroud if the Frenchman stays in the team.
Chelsea might be more predictable should Giroud start, but he can be highly effective. His lack of mobility can be made up in other areas, and the importance of his experience cannot be discounted, even if Lampard clearly leans in favor 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 struggled to make an impact.
With his confidence higher and having likely changed the opinion of his coach, Giroud should now have more time on the field.
With the European Championship fast approaching, France coach Didier Deschamps would probably say “oui” to that, too.
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