Chelsea took charge of their Champions League last-16 tie with Lille courtesy of a 2-0 victory in the first leg at Stamford Bridge.
Kai Havertz was deployed in a false number nine position after boss Thomas Tuchel opted to bench the struggling Romelu Lukaku and the Germany international duly delivered when he headed home the opener on eight minutes.
Lille responded with the impressive Renato Sanches purring in the midfield, but they struggled to test Edouard Mendy during their spells of dominance.
Chelsea continued to look the more likely when they upped the tempo on the counter attack and it was no surprise when Christian Pulisic tucked home their second goal on 63 minutes to put them in a strong position ahead of the second leg in France on March 16.
The reigning European champions will now head into the League Cup final with Liverpool on Sunday on the back of six straight wins in all competitions, although they did suffer the blow of seeing both Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech limp off injured.
What next in the Lukaku saga? When Chelsea splashed £97.5m on Lukaku they were looking for the striking focal point to push them to an even higher level. Unfortunately it hasn’t quite turned out that way just yet and he must have been a frustrated observer as an unused substitute here.
The Belgium international hasn’t been the undoubted hit many observers were suggesting but criticism of his output notably intensified after his seven touches in Saturday’s league win over Crystal Palace set a record for the lowest of any player since data was initially recorded back in 2003.
To put that into context, his replacement leading the line against Lille – Havertz – managed 23 in the first half and had already passed Lukaku’s Palace tally by the 14th minute. Indeed, Havertz has emerged as a more likely man for the big occasion. The German scored the winner in last season’s Champions League final and followed up his trophy-clinching exploits in the World Club Cup final 10 days ago with another huge impact here.
It leaves Tuchel with much to ponder ahead of his team selection for Sunday’s final with Liverpool. He suggested his number nine may have needed the rest coming into this first leg but it was notable he didn’t even feature as a late substitute and you sense there’s more twists and turns to come in this uneasy of relationships.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Kai Havertz (Chelsea). The 22-year-old rose to the occasion – as he so often does. He could easily have felt the pressure of the spotlight given he was tasked with replacing Lukaku but he remained unfazed. His movement was lively and dangerous throughout and he capped it with the all-important opening goal.
CHELSEA: Mendy 7, Rudiger 7, Christensen 7, Silva 8, Alonso 7, Azpilicueta 7, Kante 8, Kovacic 7, Pulisic 7, Ziyech 7, Havertz 8. Subs: Loftus-Cheek 6, Saul 6, Werner n/a, Sarr n/a.
LILLE: Jardim 7, Djalo 7, Botman 7, Fonte 7, Celik 7, Andre 7, Xeka 7, Onana 7, Bamba 7, Renato Sanches 8, David 7. Subs: Yilmaz 6, Gudmundsson 6, Ben Arfa n/a, Zhegrova n/a.
05’ – CHELSEA CHANCE! The Blues probe down the right. Azpilicueta pulls free and delivers a brilliant, low ball into the six-yard box that Havertz can only prod over the top on the stretch.
08’ – GOAL! – Chelsea 1-0 Lille. Havertz sees a curling shot pushed wide by Jardim but the forward is not to be denied as he rises well to head home Ziyech’s resulting left-wing corner.
55’ – CHELSEA CHANCE! Chelsea rip Lille open down the right. Jardim is left scrambling as the cross is hung up to the far post but Alonso’s rasping strike is brilliantly blocked by Celik.
59’ – CHELSEA CHANCE! Havertz races after a ball down the left and shows some real speed to take on his man. He stops and starts and then accelerates away before sizzling a rising shot from a narrow angle just over the bar from inside the area.
63’ – GOAL! – Chelsea 2-0 Lille. Pulisic makes a late charge in from the left to latch on to Kante’s cute pass and lift a shot beyond Jardim.