Frank Lampard suggested Olivier Giroud still has a role to play at Chelsea after scoring the goal that sealed their qualification for the Champions League Round of 16.
Chelsea have reached the knockout stages with two games to spare thanks to a late win at Rennes. The Blues were ahead for most of the match, but looked to be heading for a draw after conceding an equaliser in the last 10 minutes.
However, Giroud came off the bench and rose to the occasion, heading in a winner in stoppage time that put their place in the next round beyond doubt.
Giroud has been the subject of some transfer speculation recently after falling down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge. But he sent another reminder of how he can still contribute by getting the all-important goal.
After describing his pleasure at reaching the next round with two games left, manager Lampard insisted Giroud is still a key player for him.
“I’m very happy to qualify with two games to spare,” Lampard told BT Sport. “It was a really tough match, they’re a very good team. Their recent form doesn’t reflect how good they are, it was a tough hard-fought win.”
He added of Giroud: “He does things like he does tonight, he’s great. It wasn’t just his goal when he came on but his hold up play and physicality.
“I have a problem because Tammy [Abraham] is playing well and Olivier in the restart was incredible. I have two players fighting for the position, but it’s a good problem.
“He’ll get his minutes because of the amount of games. You saw the reaction to his goal, and that wasn’t just because it was a late winner, it shows what he does day to day and what he means to the team.”
The other goalscorer on the night was Callum Hudson-Odoi, who gave Chelsea the lead in the first half.
The winger is another player who has had to be patient for opportunities this season. But Lampard admits he too has a “big future” in a blue shirt.
“I’m happy,” Lampard said of Hudson-Odoi. “I knew he’d had a couple of good performances last week for the under-21s and I know he wants more minutes.
“It’s not cut and dry, he’s still developing and he came off the back of a really bad injury.
“There’s loads of great things about Callum and things he can improve. He’s a big player for Chelsea and got a big future for Chelsea. His all-round performance was great tonight.”
Lampard sticks up for Mount again
Hudson-Odoi’s goal came courtesy of a brilliant assist from Mason Mount, a player who has been the topic of much debate recently.
Lampard has frequently shielded the midfielder from criticism. He has overseen his development from loanee at Derby County to first team regular for Chelsea.
Mount is now a key player for club and country, but has not always received the praise he deserves. And Lampard insists the 21-year-old should not be the subject of any negative talk.
“I’m really pleased,” he said. “With Mason there’s been a lot of talk and any negative talk just needs to go away.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be closer to him and what he did at Derby and last season has been outstanding. I’m not going to undermine the quality he has and when we have two number eights he’s got all the qualities. I think he can get more goals and assists.
“The pass for Callum Hudson-Odoi’s goal was top class. You saw Kai [Havertz] coming on too, we need to keep that competition.
“I actually don’t speak to him too much. We have a good relationship, not as close as some think.
“He knows I’m here if he needs any guidance. But it’s the social media world, in the modern day world we all have opinions and want different things from players.
“It should only be what I think, the players think and proper Chelsea fans think of him. The conversation just needs to move on, there’s nothing to make of it.”
Chelsea will now turn their attention to a London derby with Tottenham at the weekend. Lampard explained that their preparation will have to be spot on.
“We have to prioritise the game in front of us but we’re aware of where we are in the league and that Sunday is a big game,” he added. “It always will be because of the rivalry and they are a great team and now it’s just about preparing well.
“They’ll have a day off tomorrow and then come Thursday morning we’ll start thinking about Spurs properly.”