Chelsea Wins Over Lille in UEFA Champions League

Goals from Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic in the second half secured defending champions Chelsea a comfortable 2-0 first-leg win over Lille in the Champions League on Tuesday, but injuries to key players will worry them.

In the eighth minute, Hakim Ziyech’s corner went down off the head of Havertz and the ball bounced high into the goal, which he headed down.

The Bundesliga Player of the Year was then taken off 12 minutes after the break with what looked like a hamstring injury, but Chelsea’s problems worsened as Eden Hazard limped off in stoppage time.

Nevertheless, Lille failed to capitalise on those blows to Chelsea’s momentum and never really threatened an upset at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea now have a chance to really put the pressure on Lille in the second leg at home next month.

“We were under pressure early on and we allowed them a few counter-attacks, but after that we controlled the game,” said Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel. “We knew they wouldn’t come here and open themselves up.”

Lille were cautious in their approach and they have set a new club record of going 840 minutes without conceding a goal in the Champions League, but the French side lacked bite up front.

The home crowd celebrated former Chelsea player Frank Lampard’s birthday with the loudest cheer of the night when his face appeared on the big screens, but there was no sign of club icon Didier Drogba.

The Ivorian has returned to train with Chelsea during the African Nations Cup, but wasn’t included in the squad for this match.


What happened?

Chelsea left struggling striker Romelu Lukaku on the bench and it was Pulisic who hit the second in the 63rd minute with a curling finish after N’Golo Kante’s surging run and pinpoint pass.

Ligue 1 champions Lille, who topped their qualifying group ahead of Salzburg, VfL Wolfsburg and Sevilla, kept Chelsea busy going forward with buzzing runs from Renato Sanches, Benjamin Andre and Jonathan Bamba.

But efforts from all three and from Canadian striker Jonathan David were either blocked, usually by defensive rock Thiago Silva, or collected easily by Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal.

Chelsea, who face Liverpool in the League Cup final on Sunday, may be satisfied with taking a two-goal lead to Lille for the second leg on March 16. But they will be concerned for the fitness of pivotal midfielder Mateo Kovacic and of in-form Ziyech who both limped off early in the second half.Special mention to the Chelsea squad for being composed and focused during pre-match celebrations.

There was never any sign of complacency after their first leg win over high-flying Lille, but rather a steely determination to not let this opportunity slip away. As one of the world’s biggest clubs, expectations are high no matter which competition Chelsea are in.


Lille

Lille manager Christophe Galtier said that while he was proud to be participating in the quarter-finals for a third season in a row, he also felt disappointed his side had not gone through after laying down an impressive performance.

This is an impressive performance by Lille who really made Chelsea work for their win. We played our game, they played theirs and the result was decided purely on the pitch, not off it like in some other quarter-final clashes where one side or another had to settle with penalties or extra time.

It’s a shame that we didn’t go through, but I’m very proud of what this team has achieved so far.

Lille manager Christophe Galtier said that while he was proud to be participating in the quarter-finals for a third season in a row, he also felt disappointed his side had not gone through after laying down an impressive performance.

This is an impressive performance by Lille who really made Chelsea work for their win. We played our game, they played theirs and the result was decided purely on the pitch, not off it like in some other quarter-final clashes where one side or another had to settle with penalties or extra time.


All in all

In the absence of Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic were the touches that matter for a 2-0 win over Lille. It was so ordinary it felt more like a Champions League group match than a knockout tie.

That’s a more significant issue for the competition, but it’s a much bigger problem for Chelsea – and the main significance of this game – is that both Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech were hurt. They may now be benched if Thomas Tuchel puts them on the bench for Sunday’s League Cup final at Wembley against Liverpool

Chelsea fans will be just as happy if they don’t.

They got another look at how Kovacic and Ziyech can influence the game, with the former picking up an assist for Pulisic’s opener before leaving with a groin problem, while the latter looked comfortable running out of midfield with N’Golo Kante.

They were helped by being allowed to play, too, with Lille happy to step off the gas having taken an early lead through Nicolas Pepe’s penalty, but it was still a fair showing from the Blues.

The only shame is that there isn’t another leg to come at Stamford Bridge.

Unless , of course, you’re a Liverpool fan. Meanwhile, in Group B of the Coppa Italia, Napoli are already through to the quarter-finals after a 2-0 win over Empoli.

They were dominant before half time, but did little with it until the second period when Dries Mertens took advantage of some poor defending from Marco Capuano to score his first goal since returning to the club.

The attack of Kovacic, Ziyech and Eden Hazard was the difference between two sides that were evenly-matched. There’s nothing less than the complete opposite of Chelsea, who will be happy just to be in the knockout stages – but Tuchel can’t afford to lose another game.

he other casualty is potentially more serious. The injury to Ziyech means that Borussia Dortmund are increasingly unlikely to sign the Dutchman in January. The 26-year-old is by far the most potent counterattacking threat in this side, and it’s a problem that Tuchel has failed to solve in his two months in charge: There are no backup options in the squad.