Chelsea’s comfortable 2-0 win over Lille in the Champions League last-16 first-leg clash was slightly overshadowed by second-half injuries to Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech.
Germany forward Kai Havertz nodded in Ziyech’s fizzing corner, before Christian Pulisic slotted home from N’Golo Kante’s threaded pass in a dominant last-16 first-leg victory.
The Champions League holders are now firm favourites to reach the quarter-finals, with Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Liverpool racing into view.
Chelsea could be left to sweat on the availability for that Wembley clash of two in-form players though, after injury scares for Ziyech and Kovacic.
Both Morocco forward Ziyech and Croatia midfielder Kovacic hobbled out of the clash with the glum expressions of those harbouring more than just knocks.
Thomas Tuchel will certainly hope for good news on two players who would expect to have a say in Sunday’s Wembley proceedings.
Speaking to BT Sport, Tuchel said: “I should have subbed Mateo at half-time. 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.
“It is almost like the story of the season: every second game we do substitutions only because of injuries and not because of tactical reasons. It follows us.
“It was another clean sheet and a well-deserved clean sheet. It was hard work to not allow chances to a strong team. It was a bit up and down, some very good moments, some weaker moments, some unforced errors, but we never gave big chances away.”
Havertz impressed in the false nine role as £98m club-record signing Lukaku watched on from the bench, with USA international Pulisic an equally effective supporting act.
Blues boss Tuchel vowed to protect Belgium hitman Lukaku amid continued struggles for form and fluency, in the wake of Saturday’s off-kilter showing at Crystal Palace.
Tuchel insisted Lukaku was on the bench at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday due to fatigue, but the 28-year-old’s Premier League record-low seven touches in the 1-0 win at Palace doubtless factored.
Havertz and Pulisic were high octane in comparison, offering enticing pace, movement and end product.
When asked about Lukaku’s omission afterwards, Tuchel added: “It was not the moment after the Palace match to focus on the few touches he had. It was a moment to take a step back but you can clearly see we had a strong performance. It was a tough match and every question is almost about Romelu. There were nine other players who didn’t play and it’s a team game. There is a squad.”
When pressed on why Lukaku was the only unused outfield substitute who didn’t do a post-match warm down, Tuchel said: “I don’t actually know. Our fitness guys take care about that and I trust them. They must have a reason why he was not out. Everyone has an individual programme.
“Every game is different. We focused on intensity, high speed and hard work off the ball. Romelu struggled in the last games to deliver that and that’s why I said I think he was tired both mentally and physically. It is like this and so today we went for three other players. Kai is in good shape and full of confidence.
“This was the decision for today and then we have four days to recover and decide the team for Sunday.”
Chelsea goal-scorer Havertz felt it was a strong all-round display.
“We knew that it was a difficult game, they played good football and the first half was very difficult for us. Now it is half-time and the next game we have to win as well,” Havertz said on BT Sport.
“We did not play our best football, we could not get the aggressiveness of the last few weeks, but we won 2-0 and that is the most important thing. Sunday is another competition and we have to focus on that now.”
On his role in the Blues side, the German said: “I always give my best also in the Premier League, sometimes you have more luck, sometimes you don’t and I help where I can. It is good for me [playing in a more forward position].
“We have a lot of good strikers, so it is also good to have a change and not make it easy for the opposition. Today it worked good and I enjoy every forward position.”
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
Seven touches on Saturday, none on Tuesday. The decision to bench Romelu Lukaku for Chelsea’s Champions League win over Lille only adds to the scrutiny on his Stamford Bridge struggles.
“If you have to force it then it probably doesn’t fit.” That was the social media message posted by Lukaku recently, leading many to wonder if it was a comment on his predicament. Under the lights with a trophy to defend, Thomas Tuchel stopped trying to force it.
Instead, he reverted to the forward who scored the winning goal for Chelsea in the Champions League final in May. The forward who scored the winning goal for Chelsea in the Club World Cup final in Qatar as recently as last week. Kai Havertz delivered again.
“I am really pleased for Kai,” said Thomas Tuchel. His effort, work rate and the volume and areas of the pitch that he covers for us is immense and very good. He is never shy of defending.”
Tuchel may have highlighted Havertz’s defensive work but it is time to start calling him a striker. This is no false nine. He comes short and he vacates the space, but he also runs in behind and he scores goals that any forward – Lukaku included – would love to score.
Chelsea face Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event; kick-off is at 4.30pm. Lille visit Lyon on Sunday in Ligue 1 at 7.45pm.
The return leg takes place at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday March 16 at 8pm.