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Olivier Giroud Is Still, Somehow, Chelsea’s Best Option At Striker

Olivier Giroud of Chelsea celebrates after scoring their sides second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E stage match between FC Sevilla and Chelsea FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on December 02, 2020 in Seville, Spain.
David Ramos/Getty Images

Chelsea’s summer transfer window was supposed to change this. The new attacking trio of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, and Hakim Ziyech were supposed to slot in a deadly front three, or even a front four with Christian Pulisic or Callum Hudson-Odoi patrolling one of the wings. The Blues were supposed to be entering a new era of youthful, attacking dominance. So, naturally, Chelsea’s 4–0 win over Sevilla in the Champions League on Wednesday was driven by four goals from 34-year-old Olivier Giroud.

Giroud was unstoppable, scoring three vastly different open-play goals that show off his unique strengths at this stage in his career. The first goal was a pure shooter’s shot: After receiving a little dink pass from Havertz, he cut back onto his left foot and slotted an off-balance strike past Sevilla goalie Alfonso Pastor Vacas. The second was a perfect demonstration of his nifty footwork, as he patiently dribbled around Sergi Gómez before chipping the ball into the net. And the third was just a big man getting big and pounding in a header to seal his hat trick. (He also added a penalty to finish off the four-spot in the 83rd minute; fittingly, he drew the foul for it.)

A four-goal outburst in a game neither team really had to win to qualify for the knockout stages isn’t definitive evidence of a Giroudnaissance, but it was another example of a veritable truth: Chelsea’s star-studded starting XI fits more cohesively when the Frenchman mans the No. 9 position. His skillset might be limited, but it’s limited in the exact areas the London side doesn’t really have elsewhere.

Giroud is probably Chelsea’s slowest player whenever he’s on the pitch, yet his ability to both control balls in the air and dribble around defenders in tight spaces, combined with his still lethal finishing, lets the flashier players dance around him while knowing they have a safety valve in the opponent’s box. This is true for both Chelsea and France, where he played next to Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé en route to the 2018 World Cup title.

His target man toolkit is something that, say, Tammy Abraham does not provide. Luckily for Giroudheads, Abraham demonstrated this over the weekend in Chelsea’s listless 0–0 draw against top of the table Tottenham (that feels weird to say, but it’s true!). Abraham wasted a myriad of chances against Spurs, and Chelsea looked noticeably better upon Giroud’s insertion in the 79th minute. It was too late to make a real difference in a dreadful match, but the past week might have earned him more run than the five substitute appearances he’s had domestically so far.

What other options does Chelsea manager Frank Lampard have? Abraham is good, but might not be the best fit with the players around him. Werner can and has played as the No. 9, but he has played better on the wing, where he can flash his insane speed and deadly from-out-to-in movement. Havertz is capable of manning a false 9 role, but he works better as a supporting attacker, whether that’s behind a striker or out on the wing. Pulisic, Ziyech, and Hudson-Odoi are all also similarly suited for the wide-open spaces of the wings.

So, that leaves Giroud. The Frenchman is ancient in soccer terms, he’s got very little mobility, and it does not matter. As he showed on Wednesday, he’s still got enough talent with the ball either at his feet or on his head to make the difference. Wednesday’s showing could be his final star performance in a Chelsea kit; according to reports, Giroud might be on the move in January, with Juventus reportedly interested in his services. Chelsea might want to consider keeping him until the summer, however, just to provide a different dimension at the head of its attack in what is a very winnable Premier League season.