Chelsea take full command of their Champions League group, as Timo Werner takes command of penalties, but only after more questions over whether officials have lost any kind of control of the handball law.
That was the only real drama of an entirely predictable 3-0 win over Rennes – of the type that has generally ruined this competition’s opening stages – and the main emotion. Members of the French club’s contingent actually booed the officials as they walked off at half-time, following a staggering second yellow card for the hapless Dalbert that sealed this game.
It was impossible not to feel sorry for the defender, even if the match was pretty much won with or without him on the field.
Dalbert had fouled Werner for the 10th-minute penalty, and received a booking for that, before seeing the ball bounce up onto his arm in the 40th minute. While the nature of the laws means it’s now difficult to debate a penalty being given in such instances, it was hard not to question the need for a second yellow card.
Dalbert couldn’t believe it. He had his head in his hands, aghast. He just looked dejected by the time he slumped into a seat. It is a decision that warrants scrutiny.
Frank Lampard, meanwhile, currently warrants some praise. This was a fifth consecutive clean sheet for his side and the sixth in the last seven games, but – more importantly – with that came a fairly free-flowing attack.
There is the growing sense that Lampard is figuring out his best XI, and it probably would have started against Rennes, had it not been for Kai Havertz’s positive Covid-19 test. Tammy Abraham, however, bolstered his claim for a place, nicely tucking away Reece James’ clipped cross to make it 3-0 early in the second half.
Before that, Werner hadn’t just scored twice but had been tearing around the pitch in that way that makes him maybe Chelsea’s most exhilarating signing of the summer. There was a similar force to his penalties, and the variety of them was impressive.
No second-guessing the goalkeeper or playing poker with him, as Jorginho has done. Werner simply took him out of the equation by just smashing the ball past. One was low into the corner, the other high into the corner, in that perfect way we’ve seen from so many German penalty shoot-out performances over the years.
There was a time when it seemed like their trademark approach. The reality is that, so long as a professional properly practices, Werner’s is the best approach. It doesn’t leave anything to chance. If the penalty can be struck into the same area every time, it is a guaranteed goal, because of the fact a keeper can only ever cover a certain amount of their line.
There was then the player who may well be Chelsea’s most entertaining signing of the summer: Hakim Ziyech. He again offered flashes to suggest that watching him is going to be a lot of fun. There was no goal in this game, but there was a divine attempt at a lob that was just over the bar.
Rennes, for their part, had readjusted well after the red card and closed up impressively while still creating a few chances. Edouard Mendy had to be alert for one late save to preserve that clean sheet record, and ensure he still hasn’t conceded a goal since coming into the team.
There will of course be far greater challenges than this.
Rennes did their best in the circumstances, but the financial gap in football means these games are almost always going to be losing battles, and that the entire group stage is almost a procession.
It is a longer-term problem for European football, to go with the shorter-term issue of some of these decisions.