Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner injuries could spoil Chelsea’s lopsided Champions League win over Malmo

LONDON — For 19 or so minutes at Stamford Bridge this was shaping up to be just what Chelsea needed. Malmo were compliant Champions League opponents indeed, just what Thomas Tuchel and his forwards needed to click back into gear.

Romelu Lukaku could simply bully his way through the back three pitted against him. Ultimately that was rather the problem. When Lasse Nielsen could not bring him down by fair means he did so by fouls, Lukaku’s ankle bending worryingly under the weight of his opponent’s challenge. That Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell made a beeline for their striker, rather than goalscorer Jorginho, after the penalty he had won was scored reflected where their concerns lay.

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When it rains it pours. Just as the heavens opened above Stamford Bridge, Tuchel’s problems at the top of the pitch deepened. Timo Werner was chasing a ball over the top when he felt that dreaded twinge of his hamstring. His face was etched with agony as he made his way down the tunnel though he did at least have a warmer expression on his face when he returned to the dugout just before full time.

“We have a twist of the ankle for Romelu and a hamstring for Timo,” Tuchel said. “They will be some days out, I guess.

“It always bothers me [to lose players]. Normally we are in a good place injury wise, we had only Christian Pulisic out. We have a lot of games to play, a lot of competitions. We have to deal with it and find solutions. No excuses accepted.” Further tests over the coming days will offer further insight into the length of absence for both players.

Tuchel may not curry much sympathy from his managerial counterparts considering he was able to replace his record signing Lukaku with the previous holder of that title — $100 million Kai Havertz — whilst Callum Hudson-Odoi came on for Werner. After all those two combined for the third goal that added further gloss to this convincing win, the latter driving dow the left before slipping a perfectly judged pass for Havertz to clip a shot over substitute goalkeeper Ismael Diawara.

Certainly Tuchel was determined to challenge those two, in addition to Pulisic when he returns from injury, whilst Lukaku and Werner are sidelined. “The race is on,” he said. “The guys who will start against Norwich [in the Premier League on Saturday] have our trust.

“Let’s try to stay positive. We’ve won games without Timo and without Romelu. We don’t want to have these problems but they happen.”

Optimistic though his assessment might have been, it leaves the German with a selection headache that rather spoiled a 4-0 victory that constitutes a rare emphatic win for a side that have become masters in grinding their way to victories more comprehensive than the scoreline would usually suggest.

From the first moment this was a case of how many Chelsea wanted to score. Werner had been fortunate that the offside flag had been offside when he contrived to skew a Lukaku cutback wide from a few yards out in the fourth minute. It did not take long before the goal did come.

Andreas Christensen might have been waiting 137 games for his first goal in a Chelsea shirt but he took it with the aplomb of a perennial scorer. Thiago Silva’s cross from the right also belied his status as a center-back, a whipped delivery from the right flank crying out for a sweet volley. The Dane provided exactly that with a swing of his right boot, the ball flashing into the net.

An attack that had looked anaemic against Manchester City, Juventus and Brentford began to click into gear after that opener. Werner seems to relish having a reference point to play off rather than being that man himself. Mason Mount seemed to have the burst that has not always been present in his game this season whilst there was simply nothing Malmo could do to hinder Lukaku. The Swedish champions have hardly looked like Champions League standard over these three games but in a way you suspected that the quality of opposition did not really matter for Chelsea. What they needed for now was to just get a few goals in their system.

They seemed to be coming as Lukaku barged through the Malmo defense in the box, only for a woeful tackle by Nielsen to send the Belgian tumbling to the deck. Jorginho stepped up to convert the resulting penalty, one of two he would score on the night, but the sense was that more significant damage had been done to Chelsea than one spot kick could ever make up for.

To his credit Havertz was the same rich blend of smart movement and delicate control that he was in playing the false nine role for Tuchel last season. Still his manager was not entirely impressed with what he saw, bawling in the youngster’s direction on two occasions in the first half for heavy touches and loose passes.

Chelsea could afford to be profligate. Whenever it clicked it was too much for Malmo, particularly when N’Golo Kante went marauding through midfield. One such burst unleashed Havertz in behind, the German firing a low shot at the near post that brought a smart save from Johan Dahlin down low to his left. It was perhaps the best moment of the night for the visitors who did not test the goalkeeper up at the other end; so peripheral to the action was Edouard Mendy that when the ball came to him on the halfway line the Stamford Bridge crowd urged him to “shoot.”

Having missed one chance from a tight angle late in the first half Havertz went better in the second. He and Hudson-Odoi combined menacingly down the left, the latter driving up the field before picking the right pass at the right moment to slip in the No. 29, who dinked a chip over substitute goalkeeper Ismael Diawara.

There was still more than enough time for Antonio Rudiger to go on one of his customary rampages up the field, on this occasion giving to Havertz and going before Eric Larsson caught him as he took a shot. Jorginho finished with customary aplomb from 12 yards out.

Last season the Italian was Chelsea’s top scorer in the Premier League, all his seven goals coming from the penalty spot as the Blues struggled to put the finishing touch on the chances they were creating. If Lukaku’s absence proves to be a lengthy one, that (and the odd sally forward by defenders) might prove to be a worryingly critical avenue to goal for Tuchel’s side.

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