Olivier Giroud may have felt an opportunity had forgone him at full-time in Chelsea’s turgid goalless draw with Tottenham on Sunday afternoon.
Having been introduced in the 79th minute of the defensive dogfight, the Frenchman – who has been vocal in his discontent at a lack of game time and has the rumour mill turning – had the chance to capitalise on one of the only rearguard errors of a tediously tactical top-of-the-table encounter.
In the 92nd minute, running back towards his own goal with Giroud in hot pursuit (or running as fast as his 34-year-old legs could carry him), impressive Spurs debutant Joe Rodon got caught under Kurt Zouma’s long ball in the left channel and failed to generate enough power in his header back to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Giroud’s eyes lit up as he ran onto the loose ball on his preferred left foot – the chance to be the hero against the Blues’ London rivals once again one accurate swing of his trusty left peg away, a chance for Chelsea‘s adonis to actually achieve God status (for Sunday night on Twitter, at least).
Alas, with Lloris well off his line and the goal gaping beyond, Giroud could only produce a flaccid, looping side-foot that flew straight into the grateful arms of his international teammate. Game over, 0-0, and with the narrative coming full-circle, Chelsea had discovered what it’s like to be ‘Mourinho’d’.
But while he had missed the most clear-cut opportunity of the game, Giroud’s work to prove his worth to manager Frank Lampard had been done for him in the 79 minutes he wasn’t on the pitch.
Hindsight is a readily available stick with which to beat a manager – shoulda, woulda, coulda etc – but in three second-half moments at Stamford Bridge something was abundantly clear; this was a game Giroud should have started (or at least been given longer) and could have won for Chelsea – just as he did in the corresponding fixture last season.
Lampard elected to start Tammy Abraham, but despite his 6’3 frame the England man failed to make the most of three excellent crosses into the penalty area. The 23-year-old’s heading ability is something of an enigma; while he came into the game with the highest aerial duel success percentage of any Premier League striker so far this season with 58.6% (per ExpectedChelsea), only three of his 22 goals for the senior team have come with his head.
Although strikes in consecutive games against Rennes, Sheffield United and Newcastle either side of the international break justified a start, it was perhaps an oversight that Lampard did not consider the number of crosses Chelsea would have to get into the box to bypass Spurs’ mightily effective low block.
Whoever your opponent, high, low or middling, near post or back post, Giroud is the man for the job if your game plan is to whip the ball into the danger area – which it evidently was in the second period.
Abraham’s first headed opportunity arrived in the 48th minute, with Reece James curling in a typically accurate cross from the right to find the striker primed in the middle of the box and towering above Rodon. However, the Chelsea man mistimed his jump, getting underneath it and only managing to graze the ball wide with the back of his head.
Just three minutes later and almost identically, James whipped in another to the near post, but this time the number nine conspired to lose the flight of the ball and only get a glancing touch to send it bouncing away to the left, thanks in no small part to the presence of the Welsh defender.
Abraham saved his most glaring miss and misjudgement for last, with the delivery this time arriving from Timo Werner on the left. Ghosting in behind Eric Dier to meet the clipped cross just six yards out the centre-forward flung himself at the ball with limbs akimbo, but produced something more akin to the finishing move of an interpretative dance than the finishing touch of a striker.
It would be reductive to suggest that Giroud would have scored all three, but not ridiculous to say he would have been more productive in at least one of those situations. While Abraham boasts a winner against Arsenal and goals in vain against Bayern Munich and Liverpool in his fledgling Chelsea career, Giroud has demonstrated time and time again for both the Gunners, Chelsea and of course France that he is the man for the big occasion.
There is something to be said, too, for the confidence that must surely have been coursing through the 34-year-old’s veins following his stunning last-minute winner in Brittany in midweek – a typically emphatic header. What could have been on Sunday.
While a point against the league leaders will no doubt be valuable in the long run, his presence could have made it three. Without even being involved, it was another demonstration of why Chelsea should once again think twice about letting him go in January.