Football Features

“He has the talent and timing to carry Chelsea to victory” – Winners and Losers as Blues beat Rennes to make round of 16

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 21:21, 24 November 2020 | Updated: 9:35, 30 March 2021

In an interesting night of football, Chelsea left it late to beat Rennes on the road in the Champions League.

The win puts Chelsea through to the Round of 16 after just four games. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Olivier Giroud

Admit it, you forgot Olivier Giroud played for Chelsea, didn’t you? It’s alright, the Frenchman has barely featured this season as Frank Lampard has instead focused on Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham as his lead strikers.

Before tonight Giroud had played just 157 minutes of football this season and 94 of those had come in the EFL Cup. “I think there has been a serious lack of respect for Olivier Giroud,” said Peter Crouch after the game, an argument you can’t possibly argue with given those numbers.

Tonight he came on with Chelsea leading 0-1 and saw that lead eaten away. But when Hakim Ziyech fashioned a chance late on for Timo Werner, a chance Alfred Gomis saved, Giroud scored the rebound in the most Giroud way imaginable.

Gomis’ save had caused the ball to fly up into the air. Falling to earth with gigantic Gerzino Nyamsi waiting to clear, most strikers would have just watched exasperatedly. But Giroud knew that he could get to that ball before the French defender, and he raced, leaped and contorted his body like a spring before uncoiling and thumping an incredible header into the back of the net.

Big Sexy may not be a first-team regular but he is a born match-winner, possessing the talent and timing to carry Chelsea to victory. “That won’t be the last time he bails Chelsea out,” said Joe Cole post-match, and he wasn’t wrong.

Loser: Eduardo Camavinga

Obviously Eduardo Camavinga is a phenomenal young talent who will go on to do great things in the game, but tonight he was given the run-around by Mason Mount and Jorginho. The French wonder decided to stay at Rennes this season as he felt he had much more growing to do as a player. It seemed a smart move at the time and looking at how tonight went, you really see how much growth is left.

Camavinga is an incredibly skilled player but he never managed to stamp his authority on the game and he found the physicality of Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic too much to handle. The way Mount casually threw him to the floor before racing upfield to assist Chelsea’s opening goal was humiliating but you hope that the youngster uses it as a learning experience.

Winner: Edouard Mendy

Returning to your old club is always a tricky thing to negotiate. You want to do well, to show them you’re thriving without them, but the pressure to actually step up and deliver can sometimes lead to you playing poorly as a result. It’s a tricky thing.

Well, not for Edouard Mendy, who returned to old club Rennes here and put in a superb performance at the back to repeatedly deny his old club and ensure that his new club were able to pick up a big win.

Mendy made several big stops and was a stable presence at the back so much so that even as Chelsea repeatedly failed to extend their lead, you never had the creeping sensation that they would concede.

Of course they did concede, just the third time in 10 games that Mendy has let someone score against him, but that wasn’t Mendy’s fault that his defence let Sehrou Guirassy head the ball unmarked from just six yards out.

Mendy is magnificent.

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Loser: Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic was a magnificent player for Chelsea at the back-end of last season. The American hit a blistering bit of form and no Chelsea rode him to pick up several victories and confirm their spot in the Champions League.

But injury has struck him down so far this season and as a result he’s barely featured for the Blues. But he has to be a loser because what is becoming quite apparent is that the dream front three of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Pulisic isn’t likely to happen.

The German forward only seems to look comfortable playing off a no. 9, which means Tammy Abraham or Olivier Giroud has to feature. That means big signing Werner on the left, which means the only spot Pulisic can play is right-wing and good luck getting minutes there. Hakim Ziyech is a creative genius and when he’s rested, as he was tonight, Callum Hudson-Odoi has shown that he is a potent replacement, scoring Chelsea’s opener with lethal precision. All this adds up to a very tough time for Pulisic when he’s ready for selection.

Winner: Frank Lampard

Four games played, three games won, nine goals scored, three goals conceded, Chelsea through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League yet again. All in all it’s a fantastic bit of work that Frank Lampard and Jody Morris have done at Chelsea to turn the Blues into such a solid side. Now Lampard can rotate his side and give his fringe or young players minutes in the remaining two games, looking ahead to the round of 16 as the Blues bid to do better than being battered by Bayern.

Loser: Julien Stephan

Rennes are out of the Champions League. They have 1 point after four games, and yet that feels excessively harsh. After letting Krasnodar peg them back in the opener, Rennes have since lost three games on the spin scoring just a single goal, and that seems to be their weakness.

In every match Rennes have competed. They’ve looked good, especially in attack, but they haven’t had the potency you’d want to back that play up. They’ve let chances go to waste; even tonight they missed so many chances or skewed them straight at Edouard Mendy, to the point where it was honestly a surprise when Guirassy actually converted his header.

It’s all well and good playing nice football, but if you can’t score, you can’t get anywhere.