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Giroud v Conte: Why Chelsea's 2-goal hero was everything his manager was not

COMMENT: 25 minutes. 25 minutes to rescue a game. A manager. A place at the World Cup. That's what Olivier Giroud achieved on Saturday. Because it was all on the line at St Mary's - including Antonio Conte's job.

Yes, the little rejig at the back had an effect. But victory at Southampton had nothing to do with the Chelsea manager. This result was down to one man. His attitude. His desire. His "fight".

Giroud was everything Conte wasn't on the day. Involved. Passionate. Driven. For an hour, like his manager, he had watched from the away dugout. Frustrated. Baffled. Giroud let us all in on his emotions after his two-goal salvo. When he entered the field, his first words were for Eden Hazard - Chelsea's other goalscorer on the day. This was no instructions from Conte. This was from Giroud - from the heart.

"I said when I came on to Eden Hazard we need to fight to the end keep believing," Giroud revealed in the post-match. "I didn't tell him we would score, but our first goal put us in that position."

No guarantees. No promises. But "we" need to leave it all on the pitch. The manager may be giving it away, but we can't.

Too harsh? For this column, it's a heartbreaker watching the descent of Conte. But how can you ignore the bleedin' obvious? He's just waiting. Waiting for the call from Roman Abramovich. Waiting for the payout. Waiting to move on.

He looks disheveled. Uninterested. The contrast between the Conte we saw on Saturday and the one of last season is stark. Unshaven. Tired. Unkempt. Gone is the dark suit, white collar and thin tie. Now Conte is shuffling around in a tracksuit - barely a step up from a pair of pyjamas. It's a shock to see the change. That light behind those blue-steel eyes is gone. There's nothing there now. Is it any wonder Chelsea were so, so poor for 70 minutes on Saturday?

You know it's bad when the in-house pundits are slating their team. "Pathetic", "poor", "no fight", this was all said at halftime by Chelsea's own experts, Clive Walker and Jason Cundy. Walker even likened the performance to Arsenal's infamous meltdowns against Sam Allardyce's Bolton Wanderers. On the books. Paid by the club. But there was no hiding what Chelsea had dished up in that first-half. It was rank. And Walker and Cundy knew it.

As, you fancy, did those 'visiting' the Saints boardroom at halftime. It's now common knowledge that Conte's position is being reviewed week-to-week by those in charge. Some have been lobbying an early dismissal to give the players a jolt, a late push for the top four and victory in the FA Cup. It's a Chelsea trait. And it's worked - with an almost 100 per cent record.

And when they saw the state of Conte. The state of his team in that opening 45 minutes. You have to fancy some of the suits were getting an itchy trigger finger.

But then entered Giroud.

And just as his message was to Hazard, he pledged the same to the Blues support in the aftermath.

"As long as it is mathematically possible we will believe we can reach the top four. We take the games one by one. We have got five or six finals to play after that we will see."

Again, no promises. But for Giroud, the one guarantee he can make is he'll give it everything to the end.

But another fighter available to Conte wasn't allowed to even get on the bench. Toni Rudiger, fully fit, was dumped by Conte. Not even finding a place among the substitutes.

The call came just days after Rudiger had questioned the team's tactics following their 1-1 draw with West Ham: "For me, it's not easy to explain. I don't understand why after 1-0 we always drop and let the opponent get more ball possession."

Not exactly the stuff of Gigi Buffon. However, enough to irk Conte and axe his German defender to the stands.

But Conte knew what he was getting when he brought Rudiger to the club. He'd chased him for a year. He'd seen him battle back from a morale-sapping knee injury. Stare down the racists in Italy. Conte knew he was signing a fighter. A man who spoke his mind. He wanted that type of character around the locker room...

Well, at least the Conte of 2017 did. But today's one? The one of the lounge suit? Maybe it's all too much trouble. Too much trouble to pull the lad into his office. To explain his tactics. To get his player back onside. Nah. Just axe him and move on.

Which appears exactly what Conte and Chelsea are in the final throes of doing - no matter the efforts of fighters like Olivier Giroud.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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