Liverpool (AFP) – Olivier Giroud’s hat-trick at Dynamo Kiev moved Chelsea one step closer towards Europa League success and posed a test of Maurizio Sarri’s conviction that Gonzalo Higuain is the best man to lead his attack.
Giroud voiced his frustration after the comprehensive 5-0 victory over Dynamo at his lack of involvement in the Premier League where he remains Higuain’s understudy.
The France World Cup winner’s midweek contribution means Sarri now faces a decision over whether to reward Giroud for his treble and include the striker in his line-up for Sunday’s visit to Everton, or recall Higuain, who missed the trip to Ukraine because of illness.
In Europe, Giroud has been a central figure in Chelsea’s passage to a quarter-final meeting with Slavia Prague, having scored nine goals in nine appearances.
His role in the Premier League, though, has been much more peripheral with the former Arsenal striker having failed to start in 2019.
Sarri has placed his faith in Higuain since he arrived on loan from Juventus in late January, triggering the departure of Alvaro Morata to Atletico Madrid.
Two goals on his third start for the club in the 5-0 defeat of Huddersfield suggested Higuain would not take long to find his feet in his new surroundings.
His form since then, however, has been underwhelming with the Argentine’s performances failing to inspire the belief that he can have a transformative effect on Sarri’s inconsistent side.
A return of just one more goal, in the win at Fulham, would be much more acceptable if the forward’s all-round play was helping bring out the best in other players around him.
So far there has been only limited evidence of that, and there is certainly a case to be made that Giroud provides a more effective presence as a focal point at the head of the Blues attack.
Neither striker is young, Giroud is 32 and Higuain 31, and both rely more on know-how, strength and presence rather than pace.
It is Giroud, though, who at times appears to demonstrate the greater craft, and not the player well drilled in the demands of Sarri’s playing style.
Having placed so much on bringing Higuain to the club, Sarri’s loyalty towards his former Napoli charge is likely to extend for a while longer.
And Higuain is by no means the only top-line forward to have taken time to acclimatise to the Premier League.
There is a lengthy list of players at Chelsea alone over the last decade and a half who have struggled to make their mark.
The problem for Sarri is that the fight for a top-four finish means Chelsea have little margin for error as they battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
“We are fighting for the top four, it’s not easy for us, every match at this stage of the season is really important,” Sarri told chelseafc.com.
But if Giroud can fire Chelsea to Europa League glory — which bring qualification for the Champions League — he may end up being the striker who ends the season as the under-fire Sarri’s unexpected savour.
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