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Champions League: Havertz 'steps up' for Tuchel's Chelsea

February 23, 2022

Chelsea’s defense of the Champions League remains on course after Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic put them in control of their last 16 tie against Lille. Once again, Havertz elevated his performance when it mattered.

Chelsea's Kai Havertz shouts during their Champions League last 16 victory over Lille
'He's been very strong for several weeks now' - Thomas Tuchel was full of praise for Kai Havertz.Image: Adam Davy/imago images/PA Images

Chelsea 2-0 Lille
(Havertz 8', Pulisic 63')

Stamford Bridge

The French champions seemed to leave London with hope that they can still turn this tie on its head in the return leg on March 16. That hope seems misguided. Chelsea's Champions League defense was rarely questioned by the Ligue 1 side after Kai Havertz set the Blues onto the path to a victory that was rubber-stamped by Christian Pulisic; the second leg appears a formality.

Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel likes to switch up his front line with regularity, meaning life as a forward under the German comes with no guarantees. Timo Werner was introduced only for the final 13 minutes here while Mason Mount and record-signing Romelu Lukaku remained on the bench. With an English League Cup final against Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool approaching, it's hard to imagine Havertz not being in Tuchel's starting 11 at Wembley on Sunday.

Before kickoff in West London, Chelsea's players paraded their newly-acquired Club World Cup trophy in front of their fans, a title secured by Kai Havertz's extra-time penalty. Havertz is Chelsea's man for the big occasion, a player whose habit of scoring when it really matters has made him Tuchel's go-to man — and that's come at the expense of Lukaku. Tuchel has shown that there is space for both, but his team tend to see the best of Havertz when he is the focal point.

Romelu Lukaku watches on from the bench as Chelsea's Christian Pulisic carries the ball in the Champions League last 16 game against Lille.
Romelu Lukaku watches on from the bench as he remains out of favor by Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel.Image: Javier Garcia/imago images/Shutterstock

'His work rate is immense'

While there can be little argument about Lukaku's qualities, a player who was so vital to Antonio Conte's Scudetto-winning Inter Milan team last season, he clearly isn't part of Tuchel's vision. The Belgian's watching brief came three days after he registered just seven touches in 90 minutes against Crystal Palace — the fewest of any Premier League player since at least 2003, when detailed statistics were first published.

"For Kai, I'm very pleased," Tuchel said after the game. "He's been very strong for several weeks now. He really stepped up. The work rate is immense. The areas of the pitch he covers for us is very good. He is never shy of defending."

Havertz isn't as lethal as Lukaku in front of goal, but Tuchel's demands clearly go further. Havertz offers a flexibility and movement that makes him an asset not only in front of goal but in multiple areas of the field. The man from Aachen was particularly graceful here on Tuesday night, vindicating Tuchel's inclination to go without a recognized striker. Sunday should bring more of the same, when Tuchel will be hoping Havertz's knack for scoring on the big occasion is the catalyst for more silverware.

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