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Olivier Giroud was the saviour again for Chelsea as his spectacular overhead kick gave the blues an outstanding victory against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last 16 first leg in Bucharest.
Giroud’s superb goal not only delivered the much-needed win and a vital away goal but it also ensured that Chelsea’s unbeaten run under new manager Thomas Tuchel’s wasn’t tampered with. The win has now put Chelsea in pole position to reach the quarter-finals.
A game played in Romania instead of Spain because of Covid-19 restrictions, Giroud demonstrated athleticism and technique to send an acrobatic effort beyond Atletico keeper Jan Oblak in the 68th minute. The goal was originally ruled out for offside before a video assistant referee review revealed the ball had bounced off Atletico defender Mario Hermoso.
It was reward for Chelsea’s more progressive style in the face of the usual attritional approach from Diego Simeone’s Atletico. They rarely troubled Tuchel’s side who comfortably kept the in-form but increasingly frustrated Luis Suarez at bay.
Chelsea has now gone eight matches unbeaten since Tuchel succeeded Frank Lampard while Giroud is emerging as their Champions League talisman after scoring all four goals in the group-phase victory against Sevilla and a last-minute winner away to Rennes.
Tuchel was quick to praise the impact of 34-year-old World Cup winner Giroud and said: ‘If you see him on a daily basis, you cannot be surprised. He is totally fit, his body is in shape and his physicality is on the top level.
‘He trains like a 20-year-old, like a 24-year-old. He is a guy who has a good mixture of seriousness and joy in training. He is always positive and it is a big factor for the group.’
Tuchel’s Chelsea has been efficient rather than spectacular since the German coach was appointed following Lampard’s departure in January – but there will be no complaints after the most impressive result of his brief time in charge.
Chelsea were regarded as underdogs in this last-16 tie against the La Liga leaders but apart from a couple of early scares – keeper Edouard Mendy miscontrolled early in the game before Suarez flashed the ball across the face of goal – they were in charge.
They showed more ambition than a strangely lethargic and even more cautious than usual Atletico.
It will increase Chelsea’s confidence that they have appointed a coach who is comfortable operating at the highest levels after reaching the Champions League final with Paris St-Germain last season and impressing at Borussia Dortmund.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK