Friday 23 February 2018

Impressive Giroud proves Conte's 'point'

Chelsea's Olivier Giroud. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea's Olivier Giroud. Photo: Reuters

Sam Dean

As ever, Eden Hazard knew which way to turn. Having lashed Chelsea into the lead, the Belgian had barely begun his customary trot of celebration towards the corner flag when he spun and pointed a finger at Olivier Giroud. The message was clear: this was as much your goal as it was mine.

When Antonio Conte spoke last month of needing a striker who provided a "point of reference", this was presumably what he meant.

Someone who Hazard could work around, who acted as the "one" in those darting, dangerous one-twos.

Hazard, with his dainty feet and twisting hips, thrives on that quick, pinball service. And Giroud excels at providing it. The assist in question was just the faintest of touches, a delicate angling of the Frenchman's foot as Hazard exploded forward.

It was a sublime piece of skill, made better by the fact that the hulking figure of Ahmed Hegazi, the West Brom centre-back, was left desperately scrambling on Giroud's back throughout the move, like a child clinging on to a climbing frame.

This is not to say that Giroud's home debut was all silky touches and neat interplay. He was in a battle, too, and left the field for half-time with a bandage around his head and a quickly-forming bruise on his ankle.

Such was the ferocity of the challenge, dished out by Jonny Evans, that he was perhaps lucky to have avoided a more serious knock. Despite playing such a bit-part role at Arsenal before his £19m (€21m) move, it was still a surprising statistic that this was only Giroud's second start of the Premier League campaign.

His first involvement was to bludgeon a pass out of play, while he had lost possession twice more even 10 minutes had passed. Two chances were also spurned, the first a weak shot and the second an overhead kick in which he failed to make contact.

There was similar sloppiness in the second half but in Giroud's defence, he was clearly still feeling the impact of those first-half blows, and by the hour off he went, to a standing ovation, and on came Alvaro Morata, three days after his manager said he could be ruled out for the rest of the season.

Not to be outdone, Morata made an assist of his own, diverting the ball towards Hazard, who curled in the third. This time there was no finger-pointing or sharing of the praise. This goal was all about Hazard.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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