Olivier Giroud the well-groomed, half-speed Costa, looks an ideal fit

The striker, signed by Chelsea from Arsenal last month, has a physical presence and is a good foil for Eden Hazard

Squint a little as Chelsea dispatched West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge and at times it was as though the champions’ attack was doing a slightly rattly impersonation of its old self, regenerated around a really handsome, well-groomed half-speed Diego Costa.

There has been a degree of scoffing at the last-ditch harpooning of Olivier Giroud during the January transfer window. The suggestion has been that Arsenal’s reserve striker is in some sense a sub-Chelsea signing, a gloss on otherwise stalled ambition. This is, of course, unfair on Giroud, who is still France’s number one No 9 and who provided an illuminating combination at times with Eden Hazard, who was once again an evolutionary rung or two above everyone else on the pitch

The opening goal in this 3-0 win came from a lovely combination between the two. Giroud may chug about the pitch like a man for whom running is an act of will, something he has very carefully and painfully taught himself to do over many years. But he has a wonderful ability to link the play with his back to goal.

Here he took a fizzed ball into his feet surrounded by red and white shirts, waited just long enough and laid a perfect little pass into Hazard’s run. The delay was everything, a quarter rest in the score, just enough to place the ball perfectly into Hazard’s stride. The finish was thrillingly decisive.

If the partnership with Hazard and Pedro looked an easy fit, this is perhaps unsurprising. There are similarities to Giroud’s role with France, where he plays as the central peg between two very quick players, a place to rest the ball, a wall from which to rebound a pass, drawing defenders into his muscular embrace. Here it took Giroud just 25 minutes to show, for all his ring rust, that he has a more natural grasp of what Antonio Conte wants from his centre-forward than the more garlanded Álvaro Morata.

His first real chance had arrived five minutes before the goal as Hazard produced a surgical little cross from the right that broke to Giroud unmarked in front of goal. His sidefoot finish was a wretched thing, scuffed straight at Ben Foster.

Just after the half-hour Giroud almost made contact with a spectacular spinning overhead kick, a spring and leap that ended with Giroud tumbling dramatically sideways, bouncing defenders left and right, as though someone had thrown a bulky blue triple sofa down a spiral flight of stairs.

With 34 minutes gone there was a distinctly Diego-ish interlude as Ahmed Hegazi trod on Giroud’s head in pursuit of a long pass. Giroud emerged from the trainer’s embrace with his head wrapped in a gleaming white bandage, a silkily groomed old school battering ram.

With an hour gone he left the pitch to be replaced by Morata, drawing some pronounced cheers, signs of some early affection from the crowd. He is an endearing player too, in part for his back story, the early doubts, the ability to bloom late as a flawed but skilful and often deadly centre-forward.

This is Arsenal’s fifth highest scorer of the Premier League era, a player whose rather brusque departure underplays his pedigree at the club. And really Giroud at Chelsea is probably what he always should have been, an excellent Plan B, a top-drawer back-up, to be valued for what he does bring rather than castigated for his flaws.

Another stupendous finish from Hazard killed the game in the last half-hour. Barcelona will hardly be quaking at news of a 3-0 home defeat of the division’s back markers but, as the season enters its moment of crisis, Chelsea will take some comfort after their recent convulsions.

For one thing Giroud looks a canny signing, adding a little depth and edge up front, while Hazard remains an absolute delight, a player whose simplest movements, the ability to snap sideways into space, to take the ball on the move from any angle, mark him out as a mature creative footballer at the height of his powers.

Plus, of course, they have Conte, whose task is perhaps clarified now. Chelsea’s fans sang the manager’s name throughout and rightly so. He remains one of the genuinely world-class talents at the club, a wonderful coach, albeit dressed up in a strangely exhausting, abrasive persona. As the Conte endgame enters its decisive phase Chelsea will be dangerous opponents, a club that even through all the internal strife of recent years often seems to keep a sting in its tail.

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