When Conte started Hazard as the center forward against Barcelona in the first leg of our Round of 16 match-up in the Champions League, the move was greeted with a surprising amount of breaking news, as if this was the first time Conte had done so not only this season, but during his time at Chelsea. In fact, Conte had deployed Chelsea’s no.10 as a no.9 several times before, including last season when Diego Costa was unavailable.
Just this season, Conte has used Hazard in such a manner ten times, including Qarabag (A), Huddersfield (A), Southampton (H), Everton (A), Arsenal (EFL Cup, A), Bournemouth (A), Watford (H), Barcelona (H) and Manchester City (both H & A). The results: 3 wins, 2 draws, 5 losses — not exactly stellar. If those results weren’t enough of an indication that the system wasn’t working, with the three wins coming against three of the easier teams in the list, the manner in which Chelsea lost to Manchester City at Etihad definitely was, as it led to Conte starting Giroud against Barcelona at Camp Nou.
xG map for Man City - Chelsea. Play for the draw and come up with a loss. Not a lot in that Chelsea performance. pic.twitter.com/jZkdMP6nWv— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) March 4, 2018
When we compare the two legs against Barcelona, the numbers paint the same picture. Chelsea managed to create more chances at one of the most difficult grounds in the world, than at home against the same opposition. Hazard as a center forward (often called a false nine as shorthand, even if he tries to play as an actual center forward) simply blunts our biggest attacking threat.
xG map for Chelsea - Barcelona. A fantastic defensive performance by Chelsea, looked like Willian had stolen it... then they chunked it all over the place. pic.twitter.com/K9SvCxP6f9— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) February 20, 2018
xG map for Barcelona - Chelsea. Another very defensive Chelsea set-up busted by Messi and Dembele doing great goals. pic.twitter.com/XxHsZWMBVm— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) March 17, 2018
Olivier Giroud, Chelsea’s striker and model-supreme, has arrived at the same conclusion: Hazard as the no.9 doesn’t work. Speaking to the press during the international break, Giroud spoke about who his biggest competition at Chelsea is, our false nine system and his decision to leave.
“For me, the competition is with Morata. We can be made to play with Eden up front but it is very rare and it really hasn’t borne fruit.
“There is always competition and it is necessary because I need that to continue to progress. I like challenges.”
Of course, if this was 10m Platform Men’s
Diving Falling Competition at the Olympics, then Giroud might have something to worry about against Morata but for now, he doesn’t. Here’s hoping Morata’s goal against Leicester wasn’t a one-off and he builds on that performance as life without an in-form striker is definitely a lot harder than a life with the same.
Giroud was also asked about his switch to Chelsea in the middle of the season and as was expected, it had a lot to do with this being a World Cup year.
“You have to play. Leaving in January, it was a choice hurried up by the World Cup. I did not want to put myself in danger. It is good to keep that objective in your head and keep it as a motivation.”
-Olivier Giroud; source: Evening Standard.
This makes a lot of sense as since Benzema’s banishment from the national team, Giroud’s chances of starting for the national team have only become better. He still has competition from Arsenal’s Lacazette but that shouldn’t be hard to beat as Lacazette hasn’t started a game for Arsenal since their 3-1 win over Swansea back in the last week of January.
@_OlivierGiroud_'s goal on Friday moved him into fifth in France's all-time scoring records! https://t.co/ERSMImwfSs— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 26, 2018
Hopefully, Giroud can not only carry France to glory but Chelsea as well as the both the Blues (France too, after their 3-2 loss to Colombia) will need all the help they can get.