AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli knows that he will have to manage Olivier Giroud carefully this season with his 37th birthday approaching quickly.
La Gazzetta dello Sport writes how Giroud has never started a season as well as this current one, not even during his time with Arsenal, Chelsea, Montpellier, Tours or Froges.
Giroud is the frontman of Pioli’s Milan with four goals scored in three games. He has been in red hot form to begin the campaign even if three of the goals were penalties, of which he has missed only two out of 34 in his career.
The Frenchman shines and makes those around him shine too. His work helps Christian Pulisic and Rafael Leao, because he occupies the area with smart movement and allows the wingers and midfielders to play off him.
With the arrival of Pulisic and the move to a three-man midfield, with a raider like Loftus-Cheek and an attack-minded player like Reijnders, Giroud has the task of playing with his back to goal and attracting the opposing central defenders by leaving spaces.
Last year he finished the season with 18 goals – his highest figure since 2015-16 season, when he reached 24 with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal – and now aims to improve even further. The big target is 350 career goals, including the national team, and he is now at 326.
Being in three competitions represents a thorn in the side of Giroud, especially with his age. Last year, throughout the period in which Milan were involved in the Champions League, Giroud slowed down a bit.
From 6 September to 2 November, the date of the first and last group matches, he scored only two goals in Serie A in seven matches, plus another four in the Champions League. From 14 February to 16 May – i.e. from the round of 16 to semi-final – he only scored against Salernitana. One goal in ten games.
However, Milan didn’t have an alternative. Divock Origi was not convincing and left the Rossoneri after just one year, while Ante Rebic was unable to repeat what he did in the first two years and also left.
This year, Milan have two useful strikers to give Giroud a breather. The first is Luka Jovic, and the Serbian comes from a 13-goal year with Fiorentina, has excellent technique and good European experience.
Last year he scored six goals in the Conference League, while in 2019 – at Eintracht Frankfurt – he scored 10 goals in the Europa League, helping them reach the semi-final.
Here too there is a discordant note: Jovic is still hunting for his first goal in the Champions League. So far he has played nine games without ever finding the back of the next, but with Milan he has at least six opportunities.
The second alternative is Noah Okafor, who sat Kalulu down and scored against the Rossoneri in the Champions League last season, only to then score two more goals against Chelsea and Dinamo Zagreb.
Okafor is not a natural striker, he doesn’t have Giroud’s physical attributes nor his sense of goal, but he can be useful especially with a mobile trio. The Swiss’s game is different, more about attacking in behind and running off the shoulder.
Behind Giroud, this time, there is quality. The ability for Pioli to manage his work load means that the Frenchman should always remain relatively fresh and ready to contribute therefore.