Football Features

Can Chelsea match Liverpool and Man City for squad depth? Exhibit A, Olivier Giroud

By Harry Edwards

Published: 16:35, 4 December 2020

When Olivier Giroud scored all four goals in Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Sevilla to secure top spot in their Champions League group, he posed what Frank Lampard described as a “great problem”.

Chelsea’s spending spree over the summer saw them add to their depth in attack, with Timo Werner brought in to lead the line. In recent weeks the German has been pushed over to the wing to cause problems from there, with Tammy Abraham playing centrally, ahead of Giroud.

This resulted in frustration for Giroud’s agent, who once again suggested the Frenchman will try to leave Chelsea in January to keep him in contention for Didier Deschamps’ Euro 2020 squad next summer. But some Chelsea fans were unhappy with the latest instalment of Giroud’s annual public show of itchy feet, preferring instead he stay and start ahead of Abraham, who has had a tough few weeks in front of goal (though his all-round play has been good).


Olivier Giroud

  • Age: 34
  • European stats under Frank Lampard: Games played: 6 (12th at club) | Shots: 12 (second) | Goals: 5 (most)
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Against Sevilla, those fans got their wish. Giroud started as one of nine changes made by Lampard ahead of a busy schedule and the veteran striker took his opportunity. Not that he needed to, as everyone knows what Giroud is capable of, but his four goals reminded Lampard that he is still very much able to be Chelsea’s starting striker, all coming via different means.

The ‘perfect’ record-breaking performance

His first settled any early nerves Chelsea had, running off his defender to get onto the end of Kai Havertz’s pass. With his right foot he got the better of the defender, opening up space to calmly finish with his left foot, unfazed by a slight slip.

Giroud’s second was slightly similar. He received a pass from Mateo Kovacic inside the area, once again getting the better of the defender, only this time by moving away from the goal. Again, this was no problem. Giroud lifted the ball over the goalkeeper with a neat dink, putting Chelsea in firm control of the game and the group.

The third was peak Giroud. With N’Golo Kante holding the ball on the wing, Giroud started his run between the two defenders, pointing out to his compatriot exactly where he wanted the cross. Not many expected Kante to have it in him, but the midfielder’s ball was inch-perfect. As was Giroud’s header into the far corner for his hat-trick, which made him just the second Chelsea player to score one in the Champions League after Didier Drogba in 2006. It was not any ordinary hat-trick, too. This was a perfect hat-trick: left foot, right foot, header.

A quintessential Giroud display. His runs off the ball manipulated the Sevilla defence so expertly you’d have to question whether Julen Lopetegui’s side had ever actually watched the Frenchman play before given how unprepared they looked to deal with him.

And Giroud wasn’t happy with three. There was still time for him to win a penalty with yet another run into the box, bundled over by the defender as a cross came in. Who else to take but Giroud, with a finish as cool as the man himself to become the first Chelsea player to score four in a Champions League game. He was also the first Chelsea player to score four goals in any competition since his manager Lampard did against Aston Villa in 2010.

That would be his final action, as he was taken off for a rest and replaced by Werner, his only negative being a failed knee slide in celebration of his second goal.

Chelsea’s main European man

Although Abraham was shown hugging and congratulating Giroud for his performance when the 34-year-old was substituted, there must have been a small part of the Englishman that was thinking about his spot in the team. Giroud is yet to score in the Premier League this season, but he has proven himself to be Chelsea’s man for the European occasion, a role he has tied down since joining from Arsenal in January 2018.

Brought in to replace a struggling Alvaro Morata, Giroud did have to wait a while for his first European goal, as the Blues were blown away by Barcelona in the last 16 that season. But since he started scoring (during the 2018/19 Europa League campaign) he hasn’t stopped.

Giroud has scored 16 goals for Chelsea in the Champions League and Europa League; only Robert Lewandowski (26) and Lionel Messi (18) have more in Uefa competition since the start of the 2018/19 campaign.

Of greater relevance to his team role, though, is that Giroud’s 16-goal total is well clear of everyone else at the club. Second is, quite impressively, Callum Hudson-Odoi, but the English winger has just six to his name. Following Hudson-Odoi are now-former Blues, Pedro and Willian. So if you were to take the next three players behind Giroud and add their goals together, you’d only just match the Frenchman.

Eleven of Giroud’s 16 goals came in the Europa League en route to winning the competition under Maurizio Sarri, including another hat-trick against Dynamo Kyiv and the opener in the final with a wonderful header against his former club Arsenal. Back then, the Europa League was where Giroud would get most of his playing time for Chelsea and last season he was disappointed in the Champions League, given just 87 minutes spread across three games.

But he has risen once again to become Chelsea’s main man in Europe, usurping Werner as the club’s top-scorer in the competition this season. However, again Giroud was made to wait for his chances. All five Champions League goals came in his past two games, having also scored the winner against Rennes last week that secured a last-16 spot. Giroud’s other competition for the striker’s role, Abraham, has one goal in the Champions League.

‘Giroud is a great problem’

The biggest question on everyone’s lips now is whether Lampard will start Giroud in Chelsea’s Premier League game against Leeds United, and other matches in the future, as they fight to keep the Frenchman.

Speaking after the game, Lampard admitted Giroud and the rest of the players in Chelsea’s rotated XI give him a great problem when it comes to picking who starts for the club.

“I always say when I pick the team I try to pick the best team for the game, and not to have favourites as such,” he told reporters.

“You try to put the best team on paper, but when players play like they did today they give you a great problem.

“It’s having a top player playing with quality and playing with dedication.”

When it comes to Giroud specifically, there is no right answer as to when the Frenchman should start. With so many different teams using various systems or being forced into rotation this year in particular, the notion of a ‘strongest XI’ has been lessened in significance. Perhaps 2020/21 is the season of the ‘best-suited XI’.

There is now even more of an emphasis on strength in depth and competition for places, and in that sense Giroud is up against it at Chelsea.

There is a reason Julen Lopetegui called them “the best attacking team in England at the moment.” And that was before they beat his Sevilla side 4-0. Meanwhile, former Blues midfielder Craig Burley suggested they have, “arguably as good a squad as any other in the Premier League, including Liverpool and Manchester City.”

So accordingly there will be some games where Giroud may not be the striker ‘best suited’ for a Chelsea team. But perhaps Lampard won’t consider Saturday night’s game against Leeds United one of those.

“Giroud was out of the world. He’s got to play at the weekend now,” was Glenn Hoddle’s immediate impression while covering Wednesday’s game for BT Sport, and he also went on to note how, “[Barcelona and Real Madrid] are two massive clubs but Chelsea’s team is better than theirs.”

“[Giroud] has given Frank [Lampard] a massive headache now,” added Joe Cole.

Despite being 34, Giroud’s game hasn’t really aged in the striker’s with other strengths often do, and he is still producing output comparable to that of his prime.

The Frenchman was never the fastest player. Instead he relies on bullying defenders with his strength and deftly flicking balls off to teammates as if he were a pinball bumper. But he still has room in his game for the neat little runs behind defenders that so many have problems tracking and Lampard admitted Giroud has given him something to think about.

“Yeah, he does,” Lampard told BT Sport when asked about whether Giroud has a claim to start against Leeds.

“I’ll have to see because it is a tight turnaround but it’s four goals in a game.

“It’s not just his own performance but when you play Ollie and you utilise his strengths and still maintain threats from the side with speed and quality play from the middle of the park, then you see a real nice balance about our attacking play.

“It’s not easy scoring four but again he’s done it on this level against a really top opponent. His input into the goals was really top class.”

Expectations on Chelsea are mounting, and time will tell how Lampard solves the “great problem” Giroud has given him.