It was just a shame that Romelu Lukaku ended up missing out on all the fun. This was a pulsating performance from Chelsea, their most exhilarating for weeks, and the final score probably would have been even more resounding if they had not lost their main striker to an ankle injury during the first half.
The positive is that Lukaku had already done his job by the time he limped off in the 22nd minute, although it summed up his luck that the blow to his ankle arrived just when he was poised to end his goal drought. The Malmö defender Lasse Nielsen had conceded a penalty by bringing the Belgian down with a desperate challenge and Thomas Tuchel, who also lost Timo Werner to a hamstring injury, will hope that the damage is not too severe.
At least the injuries to Lukaku and Werner had no impact on the outcome. Chelsea, who remain three points behind Juventus at the top of Group H, were rampant against limited opponents. Andreas Christensen had opened the scoring before Lukaku’s departure, there were two cool penalties from Jorginho and, for Tuchel, there was the added satisfaction of seeing Kai Havertz boost his ailing confidence with a slick goal in the second half.
It was a lovely finish from Havertz, who has struggled to kick on since scoring the winner in last season’s final, although it should be pointed out that Chelsea were not up against much. Malmö, who have zero points and a goal difference of -11 after three games, were hopelessly naive and Tuchel will know that smashing the Swedish champions does not mean his team have suddenly become a devastating attacking force.
The question of balance continues to occupy Tuchel’s thoughts. He has focused on control since arriving at Stamford Bridge and, while his 3-4-2-1 system has made his team difficult to break down, there are times when it is hard not to wonder if Chelsea would benefit from a more expansive line-up against certain opponents, particularly with the goals starting to dry up for Lukaku.
After all the impeccable defensive stability has occasionally come at a cost, most notably in those insipid defeats to Manchester City and Juventus. The attacking moves can feel a little cold at times, although there is an obvious retort when people question Tuchel’s approach: Chelsea, as their fans are quick to point out, are the champions of Europe.
All the same this was a night when Chelsea had to show that they can be exciting as well as efficient. It was not an occasion that called for a patient approach. Malmö are clearly out of their depth at this level – their manager, Jon Dahl Tomasson, has described making it this far as a fairytale – and although they tried to make a positive start, pushing their wing-backs up and exerting a daringly high press, it was not long before they were pinned back by Chelsea’s attacking swarm.
With Mason Mount looking more energetic, Chelsea could have killed the game in the first 10 minute. Ben Chilwell, a rampaging force from left wing-back, headed over and there was another addition to Werner’s bulging portfolio of hilarious misses when he stabbed wide from six yards after good work from Lukaku, who also had a deflected effort saved by Johan Dahlin.
A goal was on the way and it arrived when Thiago Silva collected possession on the right, with Malmö unable to clear their lines from a corner. The Brazilian picked out the unmarked Christensen, who volleyed his fellow centre-back’s delivery past Dahlin.
There was more to come when Chelsea countered in the 19th minute, Mount and Werner sending Lukaku into space on the left. The striker muscled his way into the area and looked certain to score for the first time in seven games, only for Nielsen to scythe him down with a ludicrous challenge. The defender was booked and Jorginho calmly converted the penalty, although the goal came at a cost: Lukaku, who had required treatment on his ankle, was unable to continue and will be a doubt to face Norwich on Saturday.
Not that the striker’s departure made any difference. Chelsea continued to dominate after introducing Havertz, who twice went close before the interval, then when Callum Hudson-Odoi replaced Werner. There was no letting up. The hosts delighted in tormenting Malmö, who struggled without their suspended centre-back, Anel Ahmedhodzic and they extended their lead at the start of the second half, Hudson-Odoi leading a counterattack and releasing Havertz to score with a delightful dink.
Malmö were being taught a painful lesson. They were determined to play – Antonio Colak had almost snatched a goal in the first half – but they were too open. Chelsea revelled in the wide open spaces and they won another penalty when Antonio Rüdiger charged forward from the back before being barged over by Eric Larsson after a cute pass from Havertz, allowing Jorginho to score again from the spot.
The final stages were an irrelevance. Chelsea cruised to the final whistle. By that stage thoughts had already turned to when Lukaku and Werner will be back.