Frank Lampard has a problem and his name is Olivier Giroud.
We are, of course, talking about the kind of problem all football managers long to have. The good kind. Those that arise because of a highly talented squad and a superb striker who can barely get a look in, but reminds everyone just how good he is every time he does.
On Tuesday, Giroud came to Chelsea’s rescue, coming on with 22 minutes left and nodding in a 91st-minute winner against Rennes to seal their early qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League. It was not the first time it has happened.
And yet he has only one start so far this season to go with his seven substitute appearances, and that came in the Carabao Cup.
So with an array of attacking talent in his first XI and the French World Cup winner hammering at the door demanding to be let in, how does Lampard solve a problem like Giroud?
‘One of the most underrated forwards of the last five years’
Giroud, 34, was showered with praise in the aftermath of Tuesday’s cameo performance, which took his total minutes on the pitch to a combined 178.
“Great” was how Lampard described him.
“It wasn’t just his goal when he came on but his hold up play and physicality,” the Blues boss told BT Sport. “You saw the reaction to his goal, and that wasn’t just because it was a late winner, it shows what he does day to day and what he means to the team.
“He does things like he does tonight, he’s great.”
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In the BT studio they were even more effusive.
“Giroud is special,” said former Chelsea and England midfielder Joe Cole. “Frank knows what a great lad he is and what a great servant he is.
“He is one of the most underrated players we have seen in past five years in Premier League.”
Ex-England forward Peter Crouch continued on the theme: “There has been a serious lack of respect for him in past years in the Premier League and France.
“He is one of the greater players France have had in terms of goalscoring. It is time we stood up and lauded him.”
The numbers back up such an assessment.
- He has 30 goals in 4,674 minutes for Chelsea. That is roughly a goal every 155 minutes.
- Last season, he netted 10 times in 25 appearances, scoring a goal roughly every 141 minutes.
- This included a run of eight goals in 13 league games either side of lockdown.
- He won the Golden Boot in the 2018-19 Europa League, with 11 goals in 14 matches as the Blues won the tournament.
- Most impressive of all his international record: 105 games, 44 goals. Only Thierry Henry has more for the France national side.
So what’s the problem?
There are two of them: Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham – the two forwards blocking Giroud’s path to the first team.
German international Werner was bought for a reported £47m from RB Leipzig in the summer and is one of the most prolific forwards in Europe, with 42 goals in his last 59 club games.
Abraham is an England international and Blues academy graduate, who top-scored for the club last season with 18 goals in all competitions. He came into Tuesday’s game having scored in each of Chelsea’s last two league games.
What’s the solution?
For starters, he could leave Stamford Bridge.
Giroud has admitted as much himself, telling Telefoot recently: “It’s worrying. I thought I still had a role to play at Chelsea, but my playing time is getting reduced a lot. It’s going to have to change, or else I must make a decision.”
Lampard responded to that by insisting he was an important player for the club. He reiterated such feelings on Tuesday and offered him hope before a December run sees the Blues play eight times.
“I have a problem because Tammy [Abraham] is playing well and Olivier in the restart was incredible,” said Lampard. “I have two players fighting for the position, but it’s a good problem.
“He’ll get his minutes because of the amount of games.”
Purely a number nine, Giroud could be helped by the fact that Werner has been used by Lampard in one of the wide attacking roles of his front three as he looks to accommodate both the German and Abraham into his side.
But with the European Championships next summer and a place in France’s squad at stake, he will not want to risk his participation through prolonged time on the bench.
“It is a real test for Frank,” said Cole. “A real tough decision because Giroud is such a great professional. I would love to see him stay.
“The dream would be for the France manager to ring Giroud and tell him he is going to the tournament. That will calm him down. That would be ideal for Chelsea.”