Seeking to move one step closer to defending their Champions League crown, Chelsea prepare for the second leg of their last-16 battle with French champions Lille at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday night.
The Blues claimed a healthy 2-0 lead in the first leg at Stamford Bridge and will once again aim to do their talking on the pitch amid the unprecedented circumstances off it.
Before the sanctions against Roman Abramovich and subsequent impact on his beloved Chelsea dominated the talk around Stamford Bridge, Thomas Tuchel’s side dazzled under the bright lights of Europe to put one foot firmly in the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite tournament.
Kai Havertz had his name on the scoresheet after just eight minutes courtesy of a bullet header past a hapless Leo Jardim in the Lille goal, and Christian Pulisic slotted home with 63 minutes on the clock to cap off a professional display against Les Dogues in the first leg.
While their defence was breached freely by Chelsea that night, Lille have proven an extremely tough nut to crack domestically in recent weeks and collected their fifth Ligue 1 clean sheet on the bounce against Saint-Etienne, but they could not find the back of the net themselves as the encounter ended 0-0.
Jocelyn Gourvennec’s faltering champions are still rank outsiders when it comes to returning to continental competition next season but have at least developed a much-needed sense of defensive resilience as they aim to turn the tie around and make the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time ever.
Lille’s only previous appearance in the last-16 also ended in defeat at the hands of English opposition in Manchester United back in 2007, and while Les Dogues will be written off by many for a spot in the last eight, the Ligue 1 champions have lost just one of their last 17 at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in all tournaments.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel before the match on March 5, 2022© Reuters
One can only hope that Thomas Tuchel has made a note to pack his driving glasses, with the Blues boss jokingly offering to drive his players to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy as sanctions against Abramovich threaten to derail Chelsea’s European journey.
Despite the financial restrictions, Tuchel has affirmed that his side will travel to Lille to finish the job no matter what, and his players have done a sterling job of focusing on the task at hand on the pitch in the past week or so.
VAR once again took centre stage for all the wrong reasons as a seemingly obvious tug of the shirt by Trevoh Chalobah on Jacob Murphy was not penalised, and Chelsea took advantage to sink a resolute Newcastle United, as Havertz’s sublime first touch and finish late on won the day for the Blues.
Tuchel’s side continue to consolidate their hold on third spot in the Premier League table and have now won four on the bounce in all competitions ahead of Wednesday’s game, and while they suffered four successive last-16 exits before winning the Champions League in 2021, they did not prevail in any of the first-leg ties in those years.
The 2-0 win over Lille in the first leg marked a third win from three meetings with Les Dogues for Chelsea, whose only previous visit to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy for a 2019-20 group-stage encounter ended in a 2-1 triumph.