Eden Hazard may have been Chelsea’s key man in our Europa League final triumph against Arsenal on Wednesday but Olivier Giroud could be considered our most valuable player for the tournament after making another outstanding contribution on the night.
Playing against his former club, the French striker proved a huge catalyst in our 4-1 win in Baku when he broke the deadlock with a brave header after 49 minutes, won the penalty which was converted by Hazard to make it 3-0 and then set up another for the Belgian to put the result beyond doubt.
The 32-year-old’s performances throughout the tournament resulted in his deserved inclusion, with seven of his Chelsea team-mates, in the Europa League’s squad of the season, but a strong case could be made for him to be regarded as our Mr Europa.
Giroud netted only two goals in our Premier League campaign but with 11 goals in the Europa League, he finished as the tournament’s top scorer and became the first Chelsea player to hit double digits in goals during a European campaign.
However, it was not just the volume of goals by the Frenchman but the range of his scoring repertoire which showed us what an accomplished finisher he is.
While his first and last goals in the competition may have appeared similar as he met crosses from the left by Emerson against BATE Borisov and Arsenal with firm near-post headers, his other nine strikes were varied in execution.
They included an accurate angled shot and a well-timed volley at home to PAOK, a precise free-kick into the top corner at Vidi, a cheeky back-heel at Malmo and predatory close-range finishes in home wins against Malmo and Slavia Prague.
His finishing ability was best summed up in our 5-0 win at Dynamo Kiev in the round of 16 when he netted a perfect hat-trick, scoring with both feet before heading in a Willian free-kick.
Giroud was hailed as an unsung hero in France’s World Cup triumph last year when he didn’t score but played a vital role in the French attack with his link-up play.
And while he rediscovered his scoring touch with the Blues in the Europa League, he still proved an excellent provider with five assists, a number bettered only by Willian and two other players in the competition.
They included an elegant back-heel pass to Pedro to open the scoring in our 3-0 home win over Dynamo Kiev, an excellent through-ball to Callum Hudson-Odoi to complete the scoring in our 5-0 win at Kiev, a fine one-two for Pedro to open the scoring in our 4-3 victory against Slavia and, of course, the centring pass for Hazard to volley home his second in our thumping of Arsenal in the final.
It brought the curtain down on a glorious campaign for the striker, who has now won a continental club title to add to his four FA Cup triumphs medals and his World Cup winners’ medal.