Chelsea showed they can thrive without Romelu Lukaku as Kai Havertz scored after replacing the axed Belgium striker for the 2-0 Champions League last-16, first-leg win against Lille on Tuesday.
Thomas Tuchel’s side took control of the tie thanks to Havertz’s first-half header and Christian Pulisic’s clinical finish after the break at Stamford Bridge.
The holders will expect to complete their progress to the quarter-finals when they travel to France for the second leg on March 16.
But Chelsea’s sixth successive win in all competitions was more a referendum on their Lukaku conundrum than an indication of their chances of retaining the trophy.
Lukaku has scored just 10 goals since a club record £97 million ($131 million) move from Inter Milan last year that was expected to launch a period of sustained dominance for Chelsea.
He touched the ball only seven times in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Crystal Palace, the lowest total by a Premier League player since 2003-04.
Despite being infuriated in December by Lukaku’s public questioning of the way he was being used, Tuchel had appeared to back him on Monday, insisting his problems were no laughing matter.
But, tellingly, Chelsea were more potent in Lukaku’s absence and it remains to be seen if Tuchel will trust his beleaguered star in the League Cup final against Liverpool on Sunday.
At least Tuchel knows Chelsea have the ammunition to damage opponents while their supposed leading man labours.
“For Kai, I’m very pleased. 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,” Tuchel said.
“Romelu struggled in the last game to deliver. Not only mentally tired, but physically, which I can understand. It was the moment to take a step back.
“Today we went with other players. For Sunday we have four days to recover and decide who plays.”
Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi paraded the Club World Cup around the pitch just before kick-off.
However, that victory in Abu Dhabi will be only a footnote in the story of Chelsea’s season if they don’t mount a strong finish to an inconsistent campaign.
This was a step in the right direction and Havertz didn’t take long to get involved.
Juventus held to 1-1 draw at Villareal
Dusan Vlahovic lived up to the hype by scoring 32 seconds into his Champions League debut on Tuesday but Juventus have work to do to make the last 16 after being held to a 1-1 draw by Villarreal in the first leg.
Vlahovic found the corner with just his second touch of the game at La Ceramica but a sensational start for Juve and the Serb’s Champions League career was not enough for victory.
Instead, Villarreal’s Dani Parejo steered in a deserved equaliser midway through the second half to leave a compelling contest in the balance ahead the return leg in Turin.
At 22 years and 25 days old, Vlahovic is the second youngest player to score on their Champions League debut for Juventus after Alessandro Del Piero made his mark aged 20.
“He’s young, this is his first Champions League match,” said Juve’s Alvaro Morata. “Imagine the career he has ahead of him.”
Vlahovic was signed for an initial 70 million euros from Fiorentina in January and to huge excitement, with Juve toasting the arrival of one of the world’s most coveted young talents.
Juventus coach Max Allegri had tried to reduce expectations on Monday by insisting the striker would have to adapt psychologically and technically to the intensity of the Champions League - but Vlahovic needed less than a minute to find his feet.
It was his second goal in five appearances for Juve after he scored 12 minutes into his debut against Verona earlier this month, following a blistering 25 goals in 31 games for Fiorentina.
“When you play against this type of team, with top players, you can’t give them even half an inch. It was a great goal,” said Parejo.
Juventus will be favourites to finish the job at home next month but a well-organised and disciplined Villarreal, who won the Europa League last season, showed enough to suggest an upset is far from impossible.
“We feel a bit of frustration. You need to win at home,” said Villarreal’s Etienne Capoue. “But I think this team has the strength and mentality to win there. It’s difficult but we can do it.”