AT times last season Thomas Tuchel may well have wished he still had Olivier Giroud’s know-how to call on from the bench.
While the veteran France international was helping AC Milan to the Serie A title, Chelsea’s shortcomings in front of goal proved to be a recurring theme.
Now, with Tuchel gone, Graham Potter knows his chances of restoring momentum to the club’s season and making an early impression in his new role hinges on his ability to improve his side’s goal threat.
The test of that will come in the weeks ahead but against Giroud and his team-mates, there were promising signs that the Blues forwards are starting to gel as an attacking force.
A front three spearheaded by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and flanked by Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount took their time to impose themselves on their Italian opponents.
As the first half progressed, though, they linked more effectively although the telling final ball still eluded them. And when Mount did find the net with a delightful chip after being set up by an equally clever pass by Aubameyang, the effort was ruled out for offside.
Instead, it took the combined efforts of centre-backs Thiago Silva and Wesley Fofana to conjure the opening goal that eased the pressure on Potter’s side.
The second half was a very different story. There was a greater sense of urgency to Chelsea’s attacking moves as they repeatedly opened up the Milan defence. Aubameyang displayed a striker’s eye for goal when he turned home from close range while Sterling’s composure contributed to Reece James’s goal, completing an emphatic win.
Giroud, meanwhile, remained largely a bystander, starved of service for long periods before he was eventually withdrawn in the 72nd minute. While this may not have been a night to remember for the forward, his presence was a sign that, at the age of 36, he remains an integral part of this Milan team.
The striker opted to swap Stamford Bridge for the San Siro in July 2021. The decision came after Giroud had just agreed a one-year extension to his Chelsea contract but, having found himself on the fringe of Tuchel’s squad during the latter stages of the previous campaign, the striker decided to grasp the opportunity for more regular football.
Giroud had scored 39 goals in 199 appearances for the Blues and played a part in winning the Europa League, the FA Cup and the Champions League during his three and a half years at the club.
And midway through his final season he became the oldest player to score a hat-trick in the Champions League when he struck three times against Sevilla.
At 35, though, the forward could hardly be viewed as part of the club’s future. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner had experienced a frustrating first season in west London having been recruited for a combined cost of around £116 million. Between them, the pair managed just ten Premier League goals but Havertz’s goal had been in the difference in the 2021 Champions League final victory over Manchester City, offering hope of better things to come while club with Romelu Lukaku to come in.
Expectation was high but quickly faded as it quickly became apparent Lukaku would not fit comfortably into Tuchel’s plans, ensuring a rethink of the forward line would once again dominate the club’s summer.
The failure to recruit a forward earlier in the summer contributed to the growing tension between Tuchel and the club’s new owners and the arrival of Aubameyang, 33, from Barcelona appeared to be more of a stop-gap.
Giroud’s team-mate Rafael Leao is one of the names to feature prominently amongst Chelsea’s forward targets but the 23-year-old Portuguese hardly enhanced his reputation with a disappointing display. Operating on the left, he opened up the Chelsea backline with an electric run inside that would have led to a Milan equaliser had Made Runic not scooped the ball over the bar from just six yards out.
That, though, was a rare moment of threat from the forward who departed the pitch at the same time as Giroud.
Aubameyang’s prospects of a longer-term role will be determined by his contributions in the coming months but there were certainly signs the Gabon international is beginning to develop an understanding with the rest of his Chelsea team-mates during the second half.
It’s too soon to spot a trend, but Potter can claim there has been progress in his three games in charge. Missed chances cost the manager the chance to mark his first game with victory after a 1-1 draw against Salzburg and it took Conor Gallagher’s late goal claim three points at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
This was far more comfortable and will provide a signifiant boost to Potter and his players as Chelsea’s new era takes shape.