Frank Lampard’s side should have had it easy but they still got the outcome they wanted with qualification to face the very best in Europe
When Tammy Abraham’s nonchalant early shot was flicked into Mike Maignan’s goal, the tensions should have been eased for Chelsea.
It has been a tough three weeks after the international break but an early goal, dominance in possession and a host of chances should have led to an easy route into the last 16 of the Champions League.
But tensions popped up once again on what should have been a straightforward night as Chelsea showed some of their same old faults in a 2-1 victory over an overmatched Lille.
In truth, it was almost a completely one-sided affair with Chelsea desperate to end a run that saw them win just once in five games, including a particularly painful 3-1 loss away to Everton at the weekend in a weak performance.
Lille played into Chelsea’s hands by resting their stars with little to play for at Stamford Bridge. Manager Christophe Galtier left out the likes of Victor Osimhen, Jonathan Ikone and Jonathan Bamba. It showed, and Chelsea built on Abraham’s eighth opening goal and 13th of the season with an easy header from Cesar Azpilicueta in the 34th minute.
Antonio Rudiger’s return was met with chants of ‘Ruuud’ from the Matthew Harding End and he completed his first 90 minutes since April 28 amid a spate of poor recent defensive performances.
Still just 26, he ranks as the Blues’ most experienced centre-back and although he was rarely tested by the declining ex-Blue Loic Remy, he will be a key asset in the coming weeks.
Christian Pulisic immediately worked himself a chance after kick-off but Tiago Djalo’s scuffed clearance moments later fell to Willian on the penalty spot. Maignan saved his shot but, on this night, Chelsea had those big chances to spare.
Lampard has been highly critical of his side at both ends of the pitch, giving ‘home truths’ ahead of the match , but they once again needed to learn a lesson.
The calm and peace that had lived long in the freezing air at Stamford Bridge turned hot with anxiety with Remy’s shock goal in the 78th minute. Fortunately for the Blues, for the rest of the match he didn’t look like the striker Chelsea signed in 2014.
N’Golo Kante, Pulisic, Willian and Emerson could have all killed the game but it ended 2-1, though, it should have been won by more. Yusuf Yazici’s late strike was somewhat of a scare but it would have been more than Les Dogues deserve.
The most important thing though was to get to the next stage of the Champions League and the west Londoners can be proud that they managed to navigate what was a difficult group.
Indeed, they don’t finish top of Group H. Valencia shocked Ajax in Amsterdam with a 1-0 win to finish above the Blues on the head-to-head.
Lampard won’t care though, and he will worry about his opponent on Monday when UEFA conduct their draw for the business end of the competition in 2020. They have now qualified for 15 out of the last 16 group stages in this competition, as the Europa League champions haved shown they belong at this level again.
This result also allows the Blues to draw a line under a bad spell as Lampard took a tough stance and delivered some ‘home truths’. One of the truths has been poor form in their own stadium but this result is another step to ending that anxiety in their own dressing room and beyond it.
Next up is five Premier League games in quick succession with Manchester United and Tottenham gaining ground on them in recent weeks.
Chelsea can continue to dream of the final in Istanbul, although they’ll have to be just a bit better to keep those hopes alive going forward.
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