Earlier this month Chelsea were informed by Fifa that their two-window transfer ban appeal had been rejected. The club then announced they would take matters to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with the hope the ban would be frozen in time for new players to be registered this summer.
If Chelsea fail again with their appeal, and Gonzalo Higuain returns to parent club AC Milan after an unsuccessful spell at Stamford Bridge, then they could be left with thin forward options in Olivier Giroud, Michy Batshuayi and Tammy Abraham, but who would be best suited to being the team’s focal point?
The only one of the three currently at the club, Olivier Giroud undoubtedly suits Sarri’s system better than his peers. The Frenchman has been dubbed the ‘Thursday Night Ronaldo’ by fans who have watched him score 10 goals in the Europa League this campaign, making him the competition’s leading scorer, and is one of the few players who rarely divides opinions in the fanbase.
The same form has not been emulated in the Premier League, with Giroud scoring just two goals in 27 appearances in the competition this season. In his defence, only seven of those have been starts, with just two lasting the full 90 minutes. With Giroud’s lack of Premier League starts at Chelsea, it is difficult to know how well the Frenchman would operate as the team’s go-to man.
Whenever Giroud has featured for the Blues, he has impressed with his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play. Sarri’s system requires a selfless striker who is willing to sacrifice personal accolades for the benefit of the team, and Giroud does this better than most. It is a reason he is frequently picked over free-scoring Alexandre Lacazette in the French national team.
His unique playing style favours Antoine Griezmann on the international stage in the same way it does for Eden Hazard at club level, and is a similar blueprint that Karim Benzema executed to perfection while paired with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
Many consider Giroud’s age to be a hinder to his game, but a 32-year-old striker who understands and appreciates the work required of him could be more beneficial to the team than a less experienced forward with one eye constantly on the back of the net. On the other hand, it would take a brave man to put their trust in an ageing striker to lead their line for an entire season, particularly in a system that demands so much of the individual.
Giroud’s contract at the Bridge expires at the end of the season, but with how influential he is on the pitch and with a transfer ban looming, it is unlikely the club will let it run down. Few fans would argue against Giroud being part of the Chelsea squad, but most would prefer the Frenchman as a rotation player.
Perhaps the wildcard of the three, Michy Batshuayi has been a Chelsea player since the summer of 2016 but has failed to make the impact expected of him in a blue shirt. The Belgian was a bit part player in the 2016/17 title winning campaign under Antonio Conte, rarely seeing more than 15 minutes of football each game, but still managed to score the goal that sealed the club’s fifth Premier League crown.
Successful loan spells at Borussia Dortmund and Crystal Palace, sandwiching a forgetful half a season at Valencia, have meant Batshuayi is a genuine contender for a starting place at the Bridge next season. The Belgian has netted five goals in the Premier League since joining the Eagles in January, only two fewer than Higuain and Giroud combined, in 30 fewer appearances.
Similar to Giroud, Batshuayi has never been given a consistent run of games in the starting line-up at Chelsea, but managed a superb one goal every 47 minutes in the 2016/17 season. His ability to find the net is clear to see; he has a better shot conversion rate this campaign (18.5%) than many of the division’s top forwards, including Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah.
The 25-year-old’s biggest downfall is his link up play. As previously mentioned, to succeed as a striker in Sarri’s fluid system, the player must be comfortable with the ball at his feet and be able to bring others into play. Batshuayi’s 65% pass completion leaves something to be desired, and being dispossessed twice as many times as Giroud this season suggests Sarri would have his work cut out.
One of the rising stars of English football, Tammy Abraham has proved his goal scoring instinct in the Championship at both Bristol City in the 2016/17 campaign, and Aston Villa in the current campaign. 23 and 25 league goals respectively has cemented Abraham’s status as one of the greatest U21 goal scorers in Europe.
Chelsea would be forced to hand their talented youngsters a chance next season if the transfer ban does not get frozen, and Abraham could be one of the winners of the situation. His ability to find the net is unquestionable, but the 21-year-old has been criticised for the lack of variety in his goals. The vast majority of Abraham’s strikes come from inside the box, and are predominantly scored from no further than ten yards out.
Similar to Batshuayi, Abraham lacks the traits needed to succeed in the forward line of a Sarri team, and could be the defining factor in the Italian’s decision. Some Aston Villa fans are known to be frustrated with their frontman, and have even said they would not want the Englishman in a claret and blue shirt next season.
The step from the Championship to the Premier League can be a big one for some players, as Abraham found out when he spent the 2017/18 season on loan at Swansea City. Five goals and one assist in 31 appearances was not enough to save the Swans from the drop, warranting some fans to argue against giving the youngster another opportunity in the top division.
Abraham’s Premier League figures of 68% pass completion, 12% shot success and 51 times dispossessed make for worrying reading, but he is the Chelsea fans’ preferred choice, as our poll of over 5,000 voters suggests.
Sarri’s decision as to who he relies on to spearhead his team could depend on whether he prioritises a goal scorer, Batshuayi or Abraham, or a forward more suited to his system, Giroud. Whoever he chooses will have the minor task of uniting a split fanbase.
Written by Liam Wilson.