Chelsea cruise past Malmo in Champions League – but at a cost

Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner both injured as Thomas Tuchel’s gamble on playing a full-strength side backfired.

CHELSEA 4 Christensen 9, Jorginho pens 21, 56, Havertz 47


CHELSEA moved a step closer to qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League, but this comfortable victory over Group H’s whipping boys Malmo came at a price, with Thomas Tuchel’s first-choice strike pairing Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner both limping off injured before half-time.

Tuchel had taken a calculated risk, and surprised most observers, by selecting a full-strength line-up to face Malmo, who had lost their opening two games without scoring. Having spoken in his pre-match preamble about Lukaku looking tired having been ‘overplayed’ by club and country, it was a surprise to see Tuchel pick the big Belgian to lead Chelsea’s forward line alongside Werner.

If the move was designed as a chance for the two misfiring strikers to boost their confidence with some easy goals, it backfired as Lukaku went off after prolonged treatment for an ankle injury, and then Werner pulled up with what looked like a hamstring problem.

It mattered little to the outcome on the night, as Chelsea ran out easy winners. Andreas Christensen gave them an early lead with his first goal in 137 games for the club, shooting home from close range in the 9th minute converting a cross by Thiago Silva.

From there on it was a procession down Easy Street for a club that used to be known as the “Kings Road Cavaliers”. Malmo defender Lasse Nielsen escaped one penalty shout when he appeared to trip Jorginho in the 15th minute but was penalised moments later when he hauled down Lukaku, who needed extensive treatment before being replaced by Kai Havertz. Jorginho scored the first of his two penalties without resorting to his usual hop, step and jump run-up.

Werner missed two good chances before he went off before shortly half-time and it was his replacement Callum Hudson-Odoi who created the third goal with a thrilling 60-yard dash before releasing Havertz for a delicate finish off the inside of the far post.

That came in the 48th minute, soon after Ismael Diawara replaced Johan Dahlin in the Malmo goal, and the substitute keeper had barely touched the ball before Chelsea scored again, with Jorginho hitting an identical penalty after Antonio Rudiger had been pulled back as he shaped to shoot in the 56th minute.

The game was effectively over, with Malmo rarely getting the ball into Chelsea’s penalty area. Edouard Mendy, man of the match against Brentford last weekend, could have watched this one from an armchair in his six-yard box, so infrequent was his involvement.

Having lost two of his first-choice players, Tuchel decided not to risk any others and made a treble substitution in the 66th minute, sending on Reece James, Marcos Alonso and Saul Niguez, who had been unceremoniously hooked at half-time after a torrid Premier League debut against Aston Villa last month. Clearly Tuchel felt this was a chance to rebuild the Spaniard’s confidence.

Chelsea could have scored more. Mason Mount, their most creative player, almost scored the goal he deserved when he headed an Alonso corner wide, having earlier put a free-kick over the bar.

Ngolo Kante, was upended after a lovely, mazy run, and then hit a half-volley horribly high and wide before being replaced by Saul. Rudiger added to his growing collection of long shots that threaten to clear the stadium when he thumped the ball high into the Matthew Harding stand following a late free-kick, but it mattered little by then.

There is no knowing how long Lukaku and Werner will be out, but Tuchel should not be too concerned. The Blues are still second in Group H to Juventus, who did them a favour by beating third-placed Zenit. If Chelsea win in Malmo next month, they will be close to qualifying for the knockout stages. And before that game, they face three of the Premier League’ strugglers – Norwich, Southampton and Newcastle.

Seeing how comfortably they saw off Malmo, Tuchel should not have too much trouble maintaining their place at the top of the Premier League. And if Lukaku and Werner have a chance to recuperate and find some goalscoring form in the interim, that will be a bonus.

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