Oliver Giroud may not be as quick or as agile as the man he replaced in the starting lineup on Saturday, but he once again proved that when it comes to playing as a target man — holding the ball, linking play, battling for possession, finding teammates — there are few better.
Most days, that sort of work goes largely unnoticed. On Saturday, with Álvaro Morata watching from the bench, it did not. Giroud collected an assist on each of Eden Hazard’s first two goals, and he could’ve had even more. In the space of one first-half minute, he set up Mateo Kovačić twice as well.
These types of touches and passes are emblematic of what Giroud brings to the table, and allow him make a positive contribution even when his own goalscoring form is lacking. He has just the one goal in over 1000 minutes of football for club and country in the last four months, but he does have a World Cup winner’s medal after playing a key role for France, and now he might have vaulted back ahead of Morata as first-choice striker for Chelsea, again, just as he set out to do a few weeks ago.
Certainly, if Hazard were picking the team, it sounds like he’d pick the man he has a very good understanding with.
“He’s a target man, maybe the best in the world, I think so. When he gets the ball, he can hold the ball and we can go with him in deep. For us it’s a pleasure to play with him. When Alvaro was playing it’s completely different, he’s a different player than Olivier. Both have quality so we are happy to have both as strikers on the team.”
-Eden Hazard; source: BBC
Olivier Giroud, the best target man in the world?— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) September 15, 2018
Some praise from Eden Hazard, this... pic.twitter.com/BcfUsU9FBa
And Hazard definitely meant that praise as he repeated it for Chelsea TV’s cameras, too, after stopping by for a post-match chat on his way out of the stadium.
“I like to play with [Olivier Giroud]. We understand each other on the pitch. As a target man, he’s maybe the best in the world. He can hold the ball and he can play one touches. He’s the kind of player that, when we need him, he will be on the pitch for sure.”
-Eden Hazard; source: Chelsea TV
With a full slate of games ahead, twice a week for months to come, Morata will get his chances, too. But as Maurizio Sarri goes through his shakedown cruise with Chelsea and learns his players, it’s starting to look like he sees what we all see — that it all just works better when there’s a bearded, 31 year-old Frenchman leading the line.