LONDON (AP) — Chelsea could rely on Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz for goals with misfiring Romelu Lukaku rested.
The London club resumed its Champions League title defense by cruising to a 2-0 victory over Lille on Tuesday to take control of the round of 16 matchup heading into next month’s second leg.
Relishing an attacking role, Havertz took only eight minutes to head Chelsea in front by meeting Hakim Ziyech’s corner.
“We have a lot of good strikers, so it is also good to have a change and not make it easy for the opposition,” Havertz said. “Today it worked good and I enjoy every forward position.”
The second in the 63rd minute was created by the dynamism of N’Golo Kante, who ran half the length of the pitch unchallenged before feeding Pulisic to finish with a shot clipped into the bottom corner.
“When N’Golo is driving like that, it’s just a question of keeping up with him,” Pulisic said, “and I managed to do that and finish it off.”
Kante’s contribution particularly pleased Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel.
“He’s struggled with belief and intensity in recent matches so it was good he stepped up today,” Tuchel said. “You can see how big an impact he has when he’s in good shape.”
The ease of Chelsea’s victory reflected their status this season. While Chelsea is third in the Premier League, Lille is mid-table in its French title defense.
“We lacked a little quality in the final ball and that cost us,” Lille forward Jonathan David said.
Tuchel said fatigue was the reason for leaving out Lukaku, the club-record $135 million offseason signing who touched the ball only seven times in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. Lukaku didn’t come off the bench against Lille.
“After the match where everyone was focused on his few touches … it was not the moment to put him into the next fire,” Tuchel said. “It was the moment to take a step back, that was the decision and that’s it.
“We have now had a strong win and a strong performance. We have now had a good win and all the questions are still about Romelu, so the focus is huge.”
And it’s easier to rest Lukaku when there’s another forward who cost over $90 million to be able to rely on. Havertz, who scored Chelsea’s winner in the Champions League final last season, also scored the goal that sealed the Club World Cup title earlier this month.
“He has really stepped up,” Tuchel said. “His work rate is immense, and the volume, the areas of the pitch that he covers for us is very, very good. He was again decisive, he created chances, got involved and was never shy of defending.
“We played with a very aggressive high line with Hakim, with all three offensive players together. It was the formation to have intensity, and a high work rate consistently throughout the whole match and they all did very well.”
In the night’s other first leg, Dusan Vlahovic scored 31 seconds into his Champions League debut as Juventus drew 1-1 at Villarreal, which leveled through Dani Parejo in the second half.
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press