Fresh off the back of a successful end to the 2018/19 campaign, and with a new one-year deal at the club, Olivier Giroud would have been full of optimism ahead of the new season. After all, the Frenchman had led the line brilliantly in Chelsea’s 4-1 win over Arsenal in the Europa League final. After scoring the opening goal of the game, he won the penalty for Chelsea’s third, before teeing up Hazard to score the fourth. This was the second season in a row that Giroud had started for the Blues in a cup final, following the 1-0 win over Manchester United in the 2017/18 FA Cup showpiece event.
Sadly for Giroud, those pre-season hopes of establishing himself in Frank Lampard’s side were not realised. It soon became clear that Tammy Abraham was the man being entrusted by Lampard to spearhead the Chelsea attack, in a tactical system that required constant movement from his striker – to attack space when Chelsea had the ball, and to press high when they didn’t. Clearly, this style of play was always going to be more suited to Abraham. With that being the case, Giroud’s role for this season has been that of a squad player, as opposed to a regular starter.
The season did start promisingly for Giroud. After coming on as a substitute for the last 25 minutes at Old Trafford on the opening weekend, the Frenchman started in the Super Cup final against Liverpool, scoring the opening goal with a clinical finish and displaying typically smart link-up play. He was again selected in the starting line-up the following weekend, at home to Leicester, but failed to make an impression in a 1-1 draw to mark Lampard’s homecoming at Stamford Bridge.
From that moment on, Giroud would embark upon what he later admitted was the toughest spell of his career. Between August 31st and February 1st (a period of 22 Premier League games), Giroud made it on to the pitch only twice – he was an unused substitute on seven occasions, and did not even make the match day squad in thirteen of those games.
Opportunities were few and far between. During that time, Giroud’s only start for the Blues came at home to West Ham on November 30th. The game was arguably the most disappointing result of the season – a humbling 1-0 defeat. Chelsea were blunt in attack, and Giroud managed just 21 touches during the whole game. The striker appeared to have lost the faith of his manager at this point, and he wasn’t seen in a Chelsea shirt for almost another three months.
By the time January rolled around, a move to Inter Milan – and a reunion with Antonio Conte – was on the cards, with Tottenham also interested. However, the potential move broke down in the final days of the transfer window, and Giroud stayed put. Though disappointed, Giroud’s professionalism was never in doubt, and the Frenchman continued to work hard in training and fight for a place in Lampard’s side.
In February, at last, the door to the first team re-opened for Giroud when Tammy Abraham suffered an ankle injury, and suddenly a place in the side was up for grabs. The game at home to Manchester United proved a pivotal moment in Giroud’s season. The manager inexplicably opted to go with Michy Batshuayi up front for the game, and it’s fair to say the Belgian was woeful. Lampard has received plenty of much-deserved praise during his first season as Chelsea manager, but the decision to go with Batshuayi, whilst leaving a World-Cup winning centre-forward on the bench, was his worst decision as the Chelsea boss. After suffering a third loss to United of the season, there was no way Giroud could be ignored any longer.
Since that defeat to United, Giroud has started – and impressed – in all four of Chelsea’s games before the season was interrupted due to coronavirus. His first game back in the starting line-up came at home to Tottenham on February 22nd, and Giroud was superb. He did what he does best – holding up the ball and linking up play brilliantly with those around him. Remember, this is the man that Eden Hazard described as “the best target man in the world” only two years ago. Yet his biggest contribution in that game came in the 15th minute, firing home a sweet left-footed strike past Hugo Lloris, sending Chelsea on their way to a vital three points in the race for fourth spot.
Giroud continued to play well and was a key reason for the upturn in Chelsea’s results that followed the disappointing run to the start of 2020. Against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup, Giroud bullied Van Dijk and Gomez – arguably the best centre-half partnership in the country – as Chelsea won 2-0. He was then back on the scoresheet in the following game in the 4-0 win over Everton, just before the season was halted. When the season does resume, it’ll be interesting to see whether Abraham comes straight back in, or whether Lampard will give Giroud the opportunity to pick up where he left off.
Last week, Chelsea fans were greeted with the good news that the club had extended Giroud’s contract for another 12 months, giving him further opportunity to win more silverware with the club. But with the Frenchman turning 34 in September, you would expect next season to be his last at Stamford Bridge. And while a return of 21 goals in 76 appearances for the Blues may not look particularly impressive on paper, he is a popular player at the club and has undeniably been a successful signing for Chelsea.