Chelsea coast past Rennes despite positive Covid-19 test for Kai Havertz

Tie was all over after pedantic VAR decision led to penalty and Rennes red card

Chelsea 3 Rennes 0

Chelsea took a grip on Champions League Group E on a night when they announced a positive coronavirus test for Kai Havertz, the £72 million signing from Bayer Leverkusen, and were helped to victory by a pedantic VAR penalty decision, which also resulted in a Rennes red card. It was an occasion that encapsulated the challenges and bitter frustrations of football in 2020.

Timo Werner had already scored once from the spot and the Rennes defender, Dalbert, been booked for the foul when there came one of those depressing and head-scratching moments that is so typical of the modern game.

Tammy Abraham had a shot blocked just inside the area by Dalbert in the 37th minute and nobody seemed too fussed about it. But then came the forensic investigation by VAR, which spotted that the ball had hit Dalbert's shin and reared up to catch his arm, which he had accidentally raised a little too high.


In the digital eyes of the law, it added up to another penalty and, even more heartlessly, a second yellow card for Dalbert. Werner scored again and Rennes were broken.

Chelsea had not played with any real fluency in the first half but, equally, they had been untroubled at the back. The former would change after the break but the latter did not as the club's new goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy, previously of Rennes, was able to enjoy a sixth clean sheet in seven matches.

Abraham added Chelsea’s third and the only question came to concern the final margin of victory. The tie had long since been undermined as a spectacle.

Havertz must self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days and he will miss Chelsea’s home game with Sheffield United on Saturday plus Germany’s matches during the upcoming international break. He will hope to be given the all-clear for his club’s trip to Newcastle on November 21st.

Chelsea kept Havertz away from training on Tuesday and they are confident they do not have to place anybody else into quarantine but the episode offered the latest reminder of these turbulent times and the unexpected obstacles to selection managers must face.

Frank Lampard wanted an early tonic on the pitch and he got it as Werner's movement inside the area proved too slippery for Dalbert. The Brazilian left back lunged in to tackle only to realise Werner had already touched the ball away from him. Werner went down before picking himself up to ram the penalty low into the corner. Dalbert picked up his first booking for the foul.

Jorginho had replaced Havertz with the intention of enjoying control in midfield and Chelsea could have scored before Werner's opener. It was a lovely piece of skill from Hakim Ziyech, who took a touch and unleashed a volley from the edge of the area. He saw it dip narrowly over the crossbar.

Rennes owe their participation in the Champions League for the first time to a third-placed finish in last season’s truncated Ligue 1 and they knew they needed something here having arrived with one point from the first two games. Their inability to beat Krasnodar at home in the opening match had been a set-back.

Julien Stéphan is building a reputation in France for polished football and his team were neat and proactive for much of the first-half. Sehrou Guirassy offered an imposing target for them to play off – Kurt Zouma was booked for going into the back of him – while there were flickers from Benjamin Bourigeaud, including one dangerous free-kick. But Rennes were unable to find any kind of cutting edge in the final third before the interval.

They argued at 0-0 that Naif Aguerd’s header hit Zouma’s arm inside the area, even though the defender was turning away and seemingly oblivious to the connection, and there was no action from the referee or his VAR.

After the second penalty-second yellow card fiasco, Rennes departed for half-time shaking their heads and nursing a deep sense of injustice. Werner had shown no sympathy with his second conversion from the spot, an emphatic blast high into the net.

Stéphan swapped a midfielder for a new left back at the break, reorganising from 4-3-3 to 4-4-1, but the zest had been sucked from his team.

Abraham moved fractionally too early on to a Jorginho pass in the 47th minute but after Ziyech had lifted a half-volley high at the back post the striker timed his run on to Reece James’s low cross to touch home smartly.

Werner could not reach another James cross as his hat-trick loomed large while substitute Oliver Giroud blew a one-on-one and Mendy would deny Rennes the most hollow of consolations when he kept out a shot from another substitute, Clément Grenier. – Guardian