Ghana Waves App
Chelsea took control of their Champions League last-16 tie against Lille with a comfortable victory at Stamford Bridge.
Kai Havertz headed in Hakim Ziyech’s corner after eight minutes and Christian Pulisic was the beneficiary of a superb run and pass from N’Golo Kante in the 63rd minute as the Blues secured a crucial first-leg advantage.
Out-of-sorts striker Romelu Lukaku was only a substitute, with Havertz the main attacking threat – and the German almost scoring twice before his early strike.
The only negatives on a good night for Chelsea and manager Thomas Tuchel were injuries to Ziyech and midfielder Mateo Kovacic ahead of Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley.
“I should have subbed Mateo at half-time,” Tuchel told BT Sport. “I have not spoken to the doctor about Hakim and hope it is not serious. Today is Tuesday, there are a lot of days to recover until Sunday. I hope they will be ready for Sunday.”Silva and Kante class acts
Chelsea had few alarms against a spirited Lille side, with their composed and professional performance summed up by the quality shown by veteran defender Thiago Silva and outstanding midfield man Kante.
Silva made a mockery of his 37 years with a peerless performance, spending most of the night in cruise control, displaying experience and perfect positioning to snuff out any moments of danger.
The Brazilian also has a turn of pace when required and is such a consummate performer that he is a cult figure among Chelsea fans, who chanted his name throughout. Silva is a defender and leader of the highest class, who appears to improve with age.
A further bonus for boss Tuchel was the return of Kante to prime form, plugging gaps and starting attacks all over the pitch – perpetual motion at all times and a crucial component in his side’s engine room.
There was no better illustration of what Kante brings to Chelsea than the surging run and perfect pass to Pulisic, that allowed the forward to lift a finish over the onrushing Lille keeper Leo Jardim for a second goal that may yet prove decisive in pursuit of a place in the last eight.
Tuchel will be concerned Kante’s midfield partner Kovacic failed to shake off a knock he sustained in the first half – and Ziyech limped off too.
But there was plenty to be satisfied about as Chelsea look to retain the crown they won against Manchester City in Porto last June.Havertz delivers the cutting edge
Chelsea’s £97.5m record signing Lukaku was the man in the spotlight after his lack of impact at Crystal Palace on Saturday. He touched the ball only seven times in that 1-0 win, one of which was the kick-off – the lowest tally for a player completing a full 90 minutes in the Premier League since stats started being recorded in 2003-04.
It compounded the sense of unease surrounding the striker’s status at Stamford Bridge and he started this tie on the bench, when this was presumably the sort of occasion he was bought for when Chelsea parted with that amount to Inter Milan.
Havertz stepped into the breach as Chelsea’s attacking spearhead and the languid 22-year-old did the job by giving a perfectly rounded performance, as well as setting them on their way with that early header.
The German should have opened his account in the opening moments when he turned Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross over the top from only six yards and then forced Jardim into a fine save.
But Havertz made sure he was on the end of Ziyech’s resulting corner with a downward header and the man who scored the winner in last season’s final proved to be Chelsea’s Champions League talisman once more.
Even when Tuchel made a change up front late on, it was not Lukaku who was called upon, but Timo Werner for goalscorer Pulisic.
This was a very satisfactory night for Chelsea and their manager, but the conundrum surrounding Lukaku will not go away until the striker, who has had an unsettled season so far, starts producing.
Many believed he was going to provide the cutting edge to their frontline and add the finishing touch to last season’s Champions League-winning side.
Lukaku’s chance may come against Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday, but Tuchel went here with the more complete game and goal threat of Havertz – and felt the benefit as Chelsea are now in pole position to reach the quarter-finals.