BY PAUL LAGAN
Olivier Giroud is expected to lead the line for Chelsea when they face Southampton at St Mary’s tomorrow.
The veteran hitman, 34, came off the bench to replace injured Tammy Abraham and scored the opening goal in Monday’s 2-0 home win over Newcastle. It propelled the west Londoners into fourth place in the Premier League – a position unthinkable while Frank Lampard was at the helm.
Thomas Tuchel has taken 13 points from a possible 15 since replacing the Englishman and will be looking to the World Cup winner to lead the line once again.
Giroud was just as happy with the defence as he was with the attack, which also saw Timo Werner score his first goal in 1,000 minutes.
Giroud said: “We started well again with great intentions to play between the lines.
“We created quite a lot of chances, and could have put the game to bed before we scored, but we are very pleased with the clean sheet.”
Kepa Arrizabalaga made a rare appearance in the starting 11 as German boss Tuchel extended his policy of rotation to the club’s goalkeepers.
Tichel confirmed that Mendy will be back in goal for the Southampton fixture – and that his absence was to help mentally refresh him..
Giroud said: “I’m happy for him [Kepa].
“He stayed focused on his job and committed to what he had to do. Every day at training he is working hard to be ready for when the manager will ask him to play, and he played very well, like the team.”
Chelsea Women will face Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League – with the draw made on Tuesday.
As the Blues players head into the international break, they know they will be facing the first leg match at home against their Spanish counterparts on either March 3 or 4.
Their next WSL game is scheduled for March 7 away to West Ham.
That means any frustrated players not in the recent starting 11 will be hoping they get the shout from manager Emma Hayes to strap their bootlaces on tight and get on the pitch.
Keeping ultra-competitive athletes happy when they are unable to perform is something that pragmatic Hayes accepts is impossible to achieve. She reckons the players just have to accept it.
The Blues’ 5-0 drubbing of lowly Bristol City on Sunday opens up a five point gap between them and second-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand.
In the stand on Sunday were established internationals Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert, among others. All will be hoping to kickstart their season after the break that still sees the Blues competing on all fronts.
“I don’t [have to keep the non-starting players happy],” she said. “They are miserable not playing, but recognising that I have a job to do.
“Players [not selected] will always echo their frustrations.
“Every week I have several knocks on the door. but this isn’t new for me. They say: ‘Why am I not playing, what have I got to do to be in the team?’
“This is my job, accepting that I can only keep 11 happy.”
Hayes however is confident that this group of players understand that they will still play a vital part on the pitch in what could be an exceptional season.
“I don’t know if they are frustrated as I haven’t asked them,” admitted Hayes. “I know that they want to play. But they are committed to knowing what we are doing.
“They know that we could have 20-plus games after the international break. That’s plenty of playing time. That’s what being in a team that is competing on all fronts is about.
“I know what they will be like, they will come back into training and train hard and give everything for the team because they are committed.”
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