Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri is likely to assess the attacking talent on offer in the January transfer window after Alvaro Morata suffered an injury this week.
The Spanish striker was forced out of the Europa League draw at Hungarian club Vidi just before half-time after injuring his knee while shooting and will almost certainly miss Chelsea’s Premier League trip to Brighton on Sunday.
His misfortune allowed Olivier Giroud to enter the action and the France international responded with a superb late free-kick that secured a 2-2 draw and ensured Chelsea remained unbeaten throughout the group stage as they progressed to the last 32.
Sarri must now decide whether Giroud should start at the Amex Stadium or whether he again employs Eden Hazard in a central role as part of a less physical, more mobile forward line.
Given his frequent tactical changes so far, the Italian does not appear fully convinced that either approach is ideal.
Neither Morata nor Giroud have fully impressed this season. Morata has outscored his rival for the centre-forward role with five Premier League goals to Giroud’s one but has again proved inconsistent, mirroring last season’s form when he was bought as a replacement for Diego Costa.
– Biding his time –
Giroud told the Guardian this week he had no problem with biding his time at Chelsea because the prospect of winning a Premier League title kept him motivated.
“Alvaro (had) a great pre-season, so it was normal not to take him off the team even to put in a world champion. Let’s be patient, work in training and come back stronger,” he told the paper.
“I prefer to be at a big club rather than playing every week in a less prestigious team and I still have targets.
“To win a Premier League is my last dream as a footballer, maybe more than winning a Champions League, because I know how tough it is to win this league.”
“I have teammates here who have won it, so I’m a bit jealous.”
Former Real Madrid striker Alvaro made a promising start to his Chelsea career, scoring freely and demonstrating his strength in the air.
Recurring injuries and difficulty adapting to the physical demands of the Premier League have taken their toll, however, and Morata has rarely looked entirely comfortable since.
The man bought for £60 million ($75.5 million, 66.8 million euros) has never achieved the popularity at Stamford Bridge enjoyed by the abrasive Costa, whose willingness to confront defenders made him a supporters’ favourite before his relationship with Sarri’s predecessor Antonio Conte turned sour.
Reports this week that Barcelona could make Morata a target in January suggest he could leave sooner rather than later.
However, Sarri could not allow Morata to go without lining up a replacement — furthermore, Morata’s injury this week has highlighted the risk of relying on just two principal strikers.
Giroud has given good service since he arrived from Arsenal last January but his return of four goals from 26 league appearances, 15 of those as a substitute, is not prolific.
His role for Chelsea mirrors that for France — he has an ability to bring team-mates into play in and around the opposition penalty area. To this effect, he has proved an encouraging presence for Hazard who has made it clear he prefers to operate coming in from wide areas.
Hazard’s relationship with Conte suffered when the Italian used him in a more central role and having been again asked to switch, the goals have dried up for the Belgian.
He scored eight goals in the opening ten games but has now failed to find the net in eight games.
Chelsea’s hopes of winning the title rest on Sarri getting the Belgian scoring again and finding a more consistent central striker — and the solution to both problems is likely to be found in the January transfer market.