For Chelsea, the result is quite decent. A 2-0 first leg win over Lille means they are well placed to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals but, as so often of late, Tuesday’s performance was less than elegant or fluidity. Then again, a round of 16 tie against arguably the weakest team remaining in the competition is not a night where history is likely to be written. Given Chelsea’s injuries, and generally speaking at this stage, what matters is professionalism and skill and making sure you succeed.

It was further evidence of the Premier League’s rise to power following the pandemic’s shock to European football’s finances. All three English teams who have played so far have won, and none have yet conceded a goal. And if Chelsea didn’t put on a particularly memorable display, where they could derive satisfaction, it was in the way they won without drama while using all the depth in the squad. Even with their numerous injuries, Chelsea were able to leave Romelu Lukaku, Mason Mount and Jorginho on the bench.

Not that Lukaku is necessarily rested. He had just seven touches in the unconvincing win over Crystal Palace at the weekend, a new phase in the ongoing saga of his return to Chelsea. Since bullying Arsenal on his debut, he has rarely looked like the centre-forward he did at Inter Milan last season, and his interview with Italian media in the fall has both pointed out the problems he faced adapting to Tuchel’s tactical approach and, in doing so, hinted at the awkwardness of their personal relationship.

Tuchel, citing Lukaku’s supposed fatigue, preferred Kai Havertz as a central striker against Lille, with Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic alongside him. He was almost immediately exonerated. Chelsea started at a brisk pace and with an ease in attack that has been lacking for most of this season. Havertz had already missed two decent chances when he headed Chelsea in the lead from an eighth-minute corner. His eighth touch, meanwhile, came in the 16th minute.

After the initial push, Lille settled in and started suggesting this could cause Chelsea problems. Thiago Silva, more imperious than ever, seemed to spend most of the first half yelling at Marcos Alonso as Jonathan Bamba or Jonathan David raced behind him. But clear chances were few and play settled into a pattern that has become familiar over recent months, with Chelsea holding an opponent at arm’s length without looking particularly exhilarating in front of goal. Against better sides, it can be a virtue; against a mid-table Ligue 1 side (despite Lille being the defending champions and improving as the season progressed) it was all a bit disappointing.

Chelsea, perhaps, would say their most creative players have been the wingers, but with Reece James and Ben Chilwell out injured they were forced to adopt a full back four which reduced the forward pushes of Alonso – if not, perhaps, quite enough for Thiago Silva. In this context, simply turning may be the best Chelsea can hope for. The Premier League title may be out of reach but he remains in the FA Cup, faces Liverpool in the League Cup final on Sunday and won the Club World Cup title 10 days ago with a typically attritional overtime win over Palmeiras.

Tuchel’s options for the League Cup final appeared to have been reduced with second-half injuries to Mateo Kovačić and Ziyech. The fact that they were replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Saúl Ñíguez, with Mount and Jorginho remaining on the bench, may have given an indication of Tuchel’s priorities. Those decisions were quickly confirmed as Pulisic added a second to the break, running on a pass from N’Golo Kanté and beating Léo Jardim with a neat half-step and a deftly lifted finish.

From then on it was just about seeing the game, which Chelsea did with a level of comfort. Beyond a few set plays, Lille never really seemed to be able to score. Injuries, especially Kovačić’s, will be a frustration, but basically it was done with the minimum of fuss. The draw has given Chelsea the chance of a relatively straightforward passage to the last eight, and they are well on their way to taking it.

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