In general terms, there is precious little to separate Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud. Since the latter joined Chelsea on January 31, he has played 183 minutes of Premier League football. His only goal or assist has been to set up Eden Hazard in the 3-0 win over West Brom on February 12.
In that time, Morata has played 138 minutes of Premier League football. His only goal or assist has been to set up Eden Hazard in the 3-0 win over West Brom on February 12.
The pair have been Plans B and C for different reasons this past month, with Antonio Conte deploying Hazard as a nominal centre-forward for two of Chelsea’s three most important games of the season. Morata played seven minutes against Barcelona while Giroud remained on the bench; Giroud was afforded 12 minutes to Morata’s one at Manchester City.
The questionable filling to that sandwich came with Morata’s ineffective performance against Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Spaniard was non-existent, failing to offer anything in the way of an attacking presence against a defence that, if tested, has a propensity to struggle.
Until Saturday, that was the most telling contribution either had offered at Chelsea for a month. Giroud may not have scored in the win over Crystal Palace, but he showed that there is far more to the challenge of playing as a striker for Conte than goals.
The Frenchman has the divine intervention of the post and later James Tomkins to thank for his inability to open his Premier League account for the Blues. Giroud had seven shots in 71 minutes; one cannot fault him for trying.
But most important was what he offered with his back to goal instead of in front of it. Giroud’s main strength is one-touch football; the 31-year-old has an uncanny ability to keep pace with much faster attackers by thinking two or three steps ahead. One instance saw Willian run almost 70 yards before passing to the more cumbersome striker, who picked out an unfathomable pass to complete the one-two instead of taking a touch and letting the opportunity slip by.
What a run this was by Willian. Beats two men, leads the break, plays the ball out wide to Giroud and gets it back but his shot is blocked. He's in the mood tonight. 2-0. #CFC pic.twitter.com/Jmqol1H0rV
— Chelsea GIFs (@ChelseaGIFs) March 10, 2018
Giroud brings more to this Chelsea side than simply a target man or physical presence. He helps facilitate attacks, combining effectively with Willian, Hazard and the roaming wing-backs. He created four chances in a fine all-round display at Stamford Bridge.
Morata must take note. The criticism of a lack of goals detracts from the Spaniard’s actual issue: that he is failing to impact on games. He has been as much a false nine as Hazard since the turn of the year, but in a very different way.
“Morata is coming from a strange injury in his back, he was a long time out,” said Conte on Friday. “Giroud is in a good form now and working every day.” The former Arsenal striker’s fitness has undeniably helped him usurp Morata, but his overall performances have consolidated his position.
This might not have been enough to convince Conte that he should start in the Nou Camp. The manager favoured a system with Hazard at the tip of the attack against Barcelona in the first leg, as well as away at Manchester City, a similar opponent. But Giroud has stated his case. Right now, the inexpensive back-up has jumped ahead of the expensive starter in the pecking order.