Over the course of 90 minutes against West Ham United on Saturday, Tammy Abraham established himself as perhaps Chelsea‘s most important player. Quite the achievement, especially given he didn’t even play.
The 22-year-old was sat behind the home dugout at Stamford Bridge as a hip injury sustained in the Champions League draw with Valencia kept him out of the contest.
Yet after Giroud had toiled for 71 minutes against the Irons, who led after Aaron Cresswell swept home, Chelsea boss Frank Lampard decided he’d seen enough – or perhaps hadn’t – and decided to take off the 33-year-old.
In his place came Callum Hudson-Odoi – a 19-year-old winger. It wasn’t a like-for-like change and ensured that despite the Blues needing a goal, Batshuayi would go unused.
American star Christian Pulisic slotted in at No.9 for the final 20 minutes but was ineffective as the home side swung hopeful cross after hopeful cross into the penalty area.
They were the sort of deliveries Abraham thrives off. His incisive movement coupled with his burst of acceleration enables him to escape the attention of centre-backs, even in tight areas. Without him in the side, Chelsea carried little threat.
Lampard, as you would expect, defended Giroud after the defeat. “It was a difficult game for him,” he admitted. “He didn’t get enough of the ball and the couple of chances he did have didn’t go in.
”It was a tough match for him but he wasn’t the only one who came into the team [to struggle]. Our performance was slightly off, so was not the easiest game.”
He was also quick to point out that Batshuayi has featured regularly off the substitutes’ bench this season: “Michy has had a lot of opportunities to come on and has made a difference in certain games. It was just a decision for this game.”
This lip service should be taken at face value. Unless the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturns Chelsea’s registration ban, which would enable the club can sign players in January, Lampard must work with what he’s got. So it would hardly make sense to chastise or criticise Giroud and Batshuayi publically.
Giroud certainly wouldn’t deserve that either. He has remained the consummate professional this season despite his limited first-team action. He was also crucial last term with his goals helping the Blues win the Europa League and his interplay with Eden Hazard helping the club finish in the Premier League top four.
It’s just that this Chelsea – Lampard’s Chelsea – is not built for him. This younger side is most threatening in transitional situations. The Blues look to win back possession high up the pitch and flood forward to create goalscoring chances. It can be exhilarating at its best.
A mobile frontman is required, not only to start the press and connect play but also to stretch defences. Giroud simply can’t do the former or the latter despite being an almost peerless link man.
It’s the opposite for Batshuayi. The Belgian is quick across the ground and an effective finisher, but he lacks the ability to bring team-mates into the game and his off the ball work is lacklustre.
Abraham is an amalgamation of the two strikers, which is why he is Lampard’s first-choice and why his absence was felt against West Ham. There was no threat in behind the visitors’ defence nor could Fabián Balbuena or Angelo Ogbonna be outfoxed in the penalty area.
Giroud (as shown in the graphic above) touched the ball just three times in the opposition’s 18-yard box – Abraham, for context, has averaged 5.10 touches in the opposition area per 90 – and he also failed to complete a dribble, or make a tackle or interception.
At 33, Giroud can’t change his game and he isn’t what Lampard needs. Neither is Batshuayi, in truth. Nor is Pulisic as a false nine on the evidence of his cameo in the role against West Ham.
It’s Abraham who is vital to Chelsea’s hopes of success. Not bad for a player who hadn’t started a game for the club prior to this season.