Date: Tuesday 22nd February 2022
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
It’s back to the Champions League tonight in the first leg of the last-16 against Ligue 1 champions Lille.
We finished runners-up of Group H and before going all the way last season, we’d failed to progress at this stage four times. We have won our last four European matches at Stamford Bridge without conceding though. We might be the Champions League holders and even the current club world champions, but those titles right now feel a bit ‘all fur coat and no knickers.’ Another struggle at the weekend, where we scraped a late win against Crystal Palace, has done nothing for the confidence levels either.
We have a striker who’s not scoring and not getting any service either. Ok, he could look for the ball a bit more, but quite frankly, I’ve made it to a Wetherspoon’s toilet and back to the bar quicker than we take a ball up the pitch. Between the lack of energy and all the sideways and backwards passing, Mendy gets better service than Romelu Lukaku. Add to that, persistent injuries that seem to be taking an eternity to recover from, and its commendable we’re somehow on a five-game winning run in all competitions.
Lille finished top of their group to progress to the last-16 although they fare less well on their travels in the Champions League and they’re not having the best of seasons either. In Ligue 1, Lille were held to a goalless draw by Metz in their last game and have just two wins from their last seven in all competitions.
I suspect this won’t be a particularly memorable Champions League night.
Going into tonight’s game, Thomas Tuchel, says “At the moment, we just keep on going and find our rhythm. It’s a bit strange to have two league matches in six weeks, it’s very strange because it’s more familiar to sink into a competition and there are so many different levels of games now. It’s a bit strange to understand the situation in which we are in the Premier League. On the other hand, it’s nice because it tells us we are still in a lot of competitions and competitive. We take it match by match more than ever before. It is the moment to be super focused and not worry about the big picture because that would make us look at a lot of different pictures and environments. The Premier League isn’t about knockout matches, it’s about consistency. We have to adapt but in terms of team management, we don’t think ahead. We bring the best group for the game and then we think about Sunday.
Lille had a fantastic coach and a group of players [last season]. They were very competitive when I was in Paris. They were a strong group, very emotional group, never easy to play in their stadium. The quality of the coach was exceptional and you could tell they had the quality to fight high up the table. But they lost players and the coach in the summer so there has been a huge change. When the change is so big it may take time for things to settle in. They lost another key player in winter with Ikone but still we all know how physical French football is, how physical the attacking players are, how brave they are in one-on-ones, very disciplined against the ball, and they have the chance to play this game as underdogs.
It’s like always: we respect the game, respect the opponent, and prepare the team as we always do.”
Lille manager, Jocelyn Gourvennec, meanwhile, says “We are competitors so we will not be going there just to be Chelsea’s sparring partners, that’s for sure. They are a great team but there are always surprises in cup matches and we want to be the party poopers, as we have been since the beginning of this Champions League campaign.
We will need to resist the pressure, especially in the first leg so we have a chance for the return. We need to try to create chances, but we will need to really be at a high level and raise our game. We will need to be solid, defend well and hold on to the ball when we win it back. It will be a bit like our matches against Paris in that we will have to try to keep possession, make our opponents do the running and have spells where we calm the tempo of the game because we can’t be chasing the ball all the time.”
For Chelsea, Ben Chilwell (knee), remains our long-term absentee and the game comes too soon for Reece James (hamstring), Callum Hudson-Odoi is also likely to miss out again. Cesar Azpilicueta and Mason Mount (ankle) face late tests.
For Lille, Angel Gomes (calf) looks to be their only concern.
CHELSEA (Possible line-up): Mendy; Christensen, Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso; Ziyech, Havertz, Lukaku
LILLE (Possible line-up): Jardim; Celik, Fonte, Botman, Gudmundsson; Weah, Andre, Ben Arfa, Bamba; David, Yilmaz.
CURRENT FORM (ALL)
- Chelsea finished runners-up of Group H
- Lille finished top of Group G
- Chelsea failed to progress at this stage on four occasions before last season
- Lille have only ever reached the last-16 on one previous occasion (2006/7)
- Chelsea have won their last four European matches at Stamford Bridge
- Lille have 5 wins from 22 away in the competition
- Lille have not kept a clean sheet away from home in the Champions League since 2014
Sportsmole: Chelsea 2-0 Lille