TOM COLLOMOSSE: Olivier Giroud and Romelu Lukaku were discarded by Chelsea but will now battle for a place in the Champions League final… The two warhorses could be decisive as AC Milan face arch-rivals Inter at the San Siro
- AC Milan will face Inter in their Champions League semi final on Wednesday
- It will see two strikers Chelsea were happy to lose battle for a place in the final
- TOM COLLOMOSSE: Milan derby semi-final could be fitting final for the San Siro
As Chelsea lurch towards the end of one of their most embarrassing seasons this century, two players they were happy to discard will on Wednesday battle for a place in the Champions League Final.
When Olivier Giroud left for AC Milan in the wake of Chelsea’s 2021 Champions League triumph, nobody – perhaps not even Giroud himself – would have expected the Frenchman to reach another Final before the Blues did.
Yet Giroud, who turns 37 in September, is a mainstay of the seven-time European champions, who are chasing their first Champions League since 2007, a year after breaking an 11-year drought to win the Serie A title.
On the other side of the city, Romelu Lukaku has not been as influential for Inter as during his first spell at the club, which persuaded Chelsea to pay £97.5million for him nearly two years ago.
He might not even make the starting XI at San Siro, but after nine goals in his last 12 games for club and country, ‘Big Rom’ looks the part again. No wonder incoming Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino would like a closer look at Lukaku when his loan stint expires at the end of the campaign.
Olivier Giroud is enjoying something of a golden summer at AC Milan and has scored 13 goals
Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku has nine goals in his last 12 games for club and country
‘Lukaku is very important,’ said Inter coach Simone Inzaghi. ‘We signed him for games like these, but he had an injury at the start of the season that meant he was unavailable for nearly four months.
‘Now he is feeling very good again, he is scoring regularly and he’s helping the team, as are the other players. Clearly he’s another attacking option for us and is a very important man to have for a coach.’
Giroud, meanwhile, spent six-and-a-half seasons at Arsenal and two-and-a-half at Chelsea, while also helping France win the World Cup in 2018. Despite winning nine trophies during his time in London, his playing style was perhaps not glamorous enough to earn him the credit he deserved.
The numbers don’t lie, however. Giroud scored four times at the World Cup as France came within a whisker of retaining the trophy and he is his country’s record scorer with 53 goals in 122 appearances. No wonder Milan have just given him a new contract until the end of next season.
‘I spent a few tough months towards the end of my time at Chelsea,’ said Giroud. ‘It was a bit difficult for me. There was a lack of game time and I needed a new challenge.
‘When I had the chance to join Milan I was very proud and it couldn’t have gone better for me. We won the league title in my first season, and now we’re in the semi-finals of the Champions League and still in the race for the top four in Serie A.
‘This club is special. Only Real Madrid have won more European Cups. If we could do it, it would be amazing and I want to carry on competing like this. I am not that young anymore but I am still hungry like a young boy. I want to win this trophy again and I am more motivated than ever.’
A glance at the likely starting XIs is enough to show that this is another era of Italian football. When these teams played Champions League ties in 2003 and 2005, Andriy Shevchenko, Andrea Pirlo, Hernan Crespo, Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro were among the players involved.
Both players were discarded by Chelsea, but one will play in the Champions League final
Only Real Madrid have won more UCL titles than AC Milan, but their last title came 16 years ago
Ismael Bennacer, Rade Krunic, Francesco Acerbi and Federico Dimarco would not turn quite as many heads – yet it would still be unwise for Real Madrid or Manchester City to underestimate either of these great rivals.
Milan coach Stefano Pioli has already guided his team past Tottenham and Napoli while Inzaghi is a master of knockout football, with six trophies to his name as a coach.
‘I just know that in football it is never good to underestimate the others,’ warned Giroud when asked whether Madrid or City would be favourites in the Final. ‘I know what I am talking about and at that level every game is really tough.
‘It is only on small margins and details that you win it. We have ambition and we know it can happen. As for Manchester City and Real Madrid, we will see what they do, but we are focused on Inter. We just want to dream.’