Olivier Giroud scored the 20th goal of his Chelsea career on Saturday, which doesn’t sound too impressive, but considering that it was only his 35th start since joining 25 months ago, and only 4 of his goals have been scored as a substitute, it’s not bad at all. In fact, to put it another way, he’s scored 16 goals in 35 starts, which is still very much in line with his career 1-in-2-ish ratio, the standard mark of a “good” striker.
But what makes Giroud truly good is that he combines that sort of performance on the pitch with the sort of leadership, camaraderie, and support behind the scenes that’s hard to quantify and even harder to replicate. He’s the ultimate professional, as he’s proven repeatedly in his time at Stamford Bridge, and that hasn’t changed this season either despite his near-ostracization by head coach Frank Lampard.
In a way, it’s that professional quality that made it difficult for Lampard to simply let the 33-year-old veteran go this January, a decision that seemed baffling at the time, but now suddenly looks like a masterstroke.
Lampard, unsurprisingly, was beyond effusive in his praise of Giroud after Saturday’s rousing 2-1 win over Spurs at the Bridge.
“He has always been engaged even when he has not been playing, he has been engaged. I said it during the window; he has been absolutely fantastic from start to now.
”That is why he can put in those performances when he comes in. Personality on the pitch, personality in the dressing room, quality to finish, selfless in his ways. He’s our player now. In January it might have changed, it didn’t, and I’m happy with that and we move on.
”He is strong; he has been around, won the World Cup, very good with the younger players around him, wants to train at a high level every day, understands his game, his attributes and how important he can be.”
One of the presumed reasons why Giroud hadn’t been playing despite putting in the work on the training ground, staying engaged, and not creating a circus in the media, was that he simply wasn’t a great fit for Lampard’s tactics.
And while that didn’t change with his performance against Spurs, what should be entirely obvious by now to everyone is that having different options and playing to the strengths of different players can be a valuable asset.
“It’s hard to isolate two different games, you can’t expect things always to work out or for strikers to score every week. Today, in everything we did, we had two very energetic forwards around him, and with Oli you sometimes have to adapt because of what he brings. It’s different to Tammy and Michy. So, we adapt. That’s partly Oli and partly the team around him.”
The trick of course is to know when to deploy what — as we saw earlier this season, the 3-4-3/3-5-2 isn’t a magic wand unlike under Conte — but having Giroud around does enable that option. And that (should) put him ahead of, say, Michy Batshuayi in terms of actual usefulness, for example.
“The way the team worked helped Oli, and he helped the team. To have competition in that area is what we have been lacking. We have lacked goals from forward areas, not just in strikers, across the front.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Goal
Lampard emphasized adaptability from day one, and this weekend, we saw that quality in action, with the perfect results.
Hopefully, we can now build from this, and make it truly a turning point in the season.