Gonzalo Higuaín’s reputation in the world of soccer could hardly be more mixed.
The enigmatic Argentine striker is famous for his misses on large stages, including a golden chance in front of the goalkeeper at the 2014 World Cup Final that could have brought the most prestigious soccer trophy back to one of the world’s most passionate fan bases.
His failures to convert opportunities the following year in the Copa America Final, both in regulation and during the decisive penalty shootout, certainly did not help his standing in his home country or among critics.
Despite his struggles on the international scene, Higuaín is a highly talented finisher who has enjoyed a successful career in Italy’s top league, Serie A, over the past 5 and a half seasons.
His best statistical season to date came with Napoli in 2015-16, his last season before being traded to Juventus, when he notched a remarkable 36 goals in 35 appearances.
The manager presiding over Higuaín’s career year that season was Maurizio Sarri, who now holds the top job at Chelsea. So when Chelsea was in need of a striker in the middle of this season, Higuaín appeared to be a natural fit and signed a loan deal with the club worth 31.3 million British pounds.
In only his second league appearance for Chelsea on Saturday, Higuaín scored two goals — a first-time finish at the near post in the first half and a stunning curler from outside the box in the second half. He led Chelsea to a 5-0 win over Huddersfield.
The value of a striker with a keen eye for goal cannot be overstated, particularly for Chelsea. In the first 23 games of the season before signing Higuaín, the team’s two strikers Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata combined for a weak six total goals.
It is frankly surprising that such poor performance in the penalty area did not cause more harm to the team’s record, but an in-shape Eden Hazard on the wing and an incredibly well-rounded N’Golo Kanté in midfield have kept Chelsea in contention for the Premier League top four this season.
Chelsea still faces a difficult battle for the top four with a surging Manchester United squad under newly appointed manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sitting only two points behind and an Arsenal team that recently handed Chelsea a 2-0 defeat only three points outside the top four.
The challenge is amplified by the fact that the team has shown serious vulnerability on the defensive side, most notably in an abysmal 4-0 loss to Bournemouth on Jan. 30. The play of the club’s keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has also been subpar.
However, Chelsea have more than enough talent in their lineup to compete with the best English clubs. If Kanté can focus primarily on defending, and if center backs David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger can drop back and defend counterattacks, Chelsea should hold up defensively.
If Higauín is utilized properly, he will continue to link up with Hazard on one-two passes and receive crosses from fast players on the edge like Willian Borges da Silva. Such attacking interplay should create plenty of offensive opportunities, and Chelsea finally have a player in Higuaín who can convert them into goals.
Fans can only hope the demons of the World Cup do not come back to haunt Higauín.