Chelsea spent much of January looking for a new backup striker, in a search that mayhap felt a little over-emphasized and even desperate, especially when names such as Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch were (trollishly?) linked. Even if Conte did not fully trust Michy Batshuayi, surely he would have been a better option that any number of barely functioning big target men cast off by football evolution.
Eventually, after baulking at the financial commitment that an Edin Dzeko would’ve required, Chelsea ended up signing a player from Arsenal. The rarity of such a transaction, which in turn enabled Arsenal to get Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund, perhaps underlined just how badly Chelsea wanted to get a deal done before transfer deadline day. As it’s been revealed since, the uncertainty surrounding Álvaro Morata’s back injury situation probably played a big part in ensuring that Chelsea got a backup whom Conte could plug in like-for-like in case Chelsea’s record signing was to miss significant additional time.
We didn’t have to wait too long to test that theory out in practice. Giroud made his debut last week and immediately gave a previously listless and wayward Chelsea some organization and purpose (despite already being down to ten men). Yesterday, Giroud made his full debut, starting a game for the first time since mid-December and for only the second time all season in the league after spending most of the year injured or on the Arsenal bench. And while he did not score (and he certainly should have), he collected one assist, got one player booked (Evans), provided the reference to the attack that Conte talks about all the time, put himself about occupying defenders, making life difficult for them, and generally being in the wars, as they say.
In fact, his performance reminded many of a certain Diego Costa (with added aerial prowess), amongst them the Guardian’s Barney Ronay, who called Giroud “a more handsome Diego Costa”, which is surely a great compliment when given in such a positive context.
Great half from Giroud running around like a really handsome Diego Costa— Barney Ronay (@barneyronay) February 12, 2018
Giroud, still coming back to full match fitness (not to mention with stitches in his head and a sore calf), lasted only 15 minutes more after half-time, replaced by the suddenly not injured Álvaro Morata, who also did not look useless, which is certainly a plus.
“I think we forced Giroud to play, also because with [Alvaro] Morata injured I think that it was very important to have a point of reference in him. I think for us he could become an important player. At the same time I had a good answer from Alvaro, for this reason I think we must be happy. To have two player, two strikers, in contention, is very important.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Sky via Metro
But as far as Giroud’s performance was concerned, everyone from the head coach on down to the players was impressed by veteran’s first showing at Stamford Bridge in Chelsea colors.
“We must be pleased with Giroud’s performance, it was the first time he played from the start with us. For sure, he needs to improve to go into our idea of football but to have a point of reference, like Olivier, is very important.
“We must be pleased because on the same night we found Morata who played very well in the last 30 minutes, with great personality and spirit. Now we need these two players to find the best physical condition. Morata missed one month with a pain in his back and I hope we’ve solved the situation. For Giroud it’s the same, he’s coming from a muscular problem and for us it’s very important for him to go into our idea of football and understand the right positions, for example the first goal was a clear example of our idea.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
The beneficiary of the wonderful linkup on the first goal was Eden Hazard, who was also very happy to finally be able to play off of a striker rather than trying to do that job himself as well.
“He’s a great target man. One of the best in England, so when we pass the ball to him we can go around him – not just me, Willian and Pedro too. He’s a good point of reference. So let’s play together. But it’s not just him, we have Alvaro too and I can play as a striker.”
“[But] I think it’s the best decision for me [to play alongside a target man]. When I pass then I can go forward. I’m faster without the ball than with it. When I pass I think all the defenders are looking for the striker and maybe they forget me. In one second I can make a difference and that’s what I did for the first one.”
-Eden Hazard; source: Sky via Metro
So far so good then as Chelsea look to restart the season after the calamity of the past month and a half. As always, the key is to now build on yesterday’s win, to continue improving, and to not only survive the fight for the top four but perhaps make a few happy memories in the Champions League as well.
But first, it’s FA Cup-time on Friday, with Conte possibly able to pick from either Giroud (who certainly got kicked a lot, including two cuts on the back of his head!) or Morata to get some more match practice before Tuesday’s massive clash against Barcelona.
“[Giroud] was unlucky [with all the knocks] but he is ready for the game against Hull. Now it’s very important for him and Alvaro to play games, they need to find the best physical condition. Training is okay but games are better and more important.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
One down, six to go in this crucial stretch of seven games from mid-February to mid-March. Imagine we win all seven...
But we have to go “game-by-game” as the “basic” saying goes, right Olivier?