Tammy Abraham celebrated his 22nd birthday and Willian his 300th Chelsea game in style, by both finding the net to earn Chelsea our first points of this season’s Champions League group stage.
Under the closed roof of Lille’s impressive stadium just the other side of the Channel Tunnel from England, it was Willian who smashed in what proved to be the winner in the second half.
Leading up to that, it looked likely the Blues would be left to rue more set-piece fallibility following on from the manner of our defeat to Valencia in the first group game, and how we had lost to Liverpool in the Premier League.
Abraham, with a well-taken eighth goal of his season, had given us a first-half lead this evening but that had not lasted long when his Lille counterpart, Victor Osimhen, headed in from a corner.
Chelsea then hit the woodwork before half-time, Jorginho the player going that close, but thankfully Willian was able to find the net with 13 minutes to go to move the Blues up to second in Group H. Ajax won 3-0 at Valencia tonight.
There should be a word too for Kepa who made some important contributions when Lille threatened our goal.
For the start of the game Frank Lampard showed the belief he has in 19-year-old Reece James by handing him his first Champions League action, just a week after his Chelsea debut in the Carabao Cup against Grimsby.
However the position was different from last Wednesday with the Blues lining up with three at the back and James as right wing-back. Inside him in the midfield was N’Golo Kante who was sufficiently over the hamstring trouble that kept him out of the Brighton win to start today. Willian became the eighth overseas player to make 300 appearances for the club.
The visitors to northern France from London had to wait until midway through the first half to find the net but a cross from James inside the first 15 minutes did force the Lille goalkeeper into an unconvincing attempt to punch it away. James would look dangerous from that position again.
It was clear in these initial stages of the contest that Chelsea were trying to stretch our opponents with plenty of cross-field passes. One such move led to a hashed headed clearance from the Lille defence but although it fell to Mason Mount, he could not return his shot on target.
Kepa judged a situation well when he was called upon to leave his penalty area and head clear a dangerously bouncing ball under pressure, in one moment of concern prior to Chelsea taking the lead which came soon after.
In the build-up to Abraham’s goal, Lille were guilty of allowing Lampard’s men plenty of space in the centre of the park as we knocked the ball around nicely and made use of the gaps. Tomori had advanced into one of them and saw the chance to spear a ball forward towards Abraham and Mount, the first of whom managed to control it and turn and then side-foot it into the net.
Such was the way the two Chelsea players had escaped the defence that offside looked a possibility, but the linesman’s flag stayed down and sure enough, a VAR check confirmed both young Blues had timed their moves forward well enough to take advantage of a crooked defensive line.
Abraham and Chelsea under Frank Lampard had their maiden Champions League goal a quarter of the way through the second game.
It took a great save by Kepa to preserve the lead on 30 minutes after Lille had broken through our press and counter-attacked, but our no.1 was beaten just a couple of minutes later by the French side’s topscorer, Victor Osimhen, who got between Zouma and Tomori at a corner and headed in.
James was booked for a flailing challenge before half-time but made an impressive defensive contribution when he eased a dangerously breaking opponent off the ball.
As the half drew to a close there was a tale of two Chelsea free-kicks. Mount won one of them to give Marcos Alonso a sight of goal but the Spaniard put his attempt over the bar, and then when Tomori was fouled in a wider position, it was Mount who delivered for Alonso to this time head goalwards but again too high.
However there was still time for the Blues to hit the post before the whistle blew. Jorginho, teed up outside the area by a pass from James, sent a curler around the defence but onto the face of the upright.
There was no shortage of goalmouth action at the start of the second half with Gabriel not far from turning a James cross into his own net as the Lille defender cleared behind, and then the home side claiming a penalty for a tackle on the same player by Tomori at the other end.
Chelsea came close to conceding from a corner again and it was proving to be a fragmented second-half display from the Blues – some good moments but not together enough to suggest a second goal was coming. Callum Hudson-Odoi replaced James with a quarter of the game to go.
Kante and Abraham combined for the big striker to square across the face of the Lille goal but no Chelsea player had gambled on a run, and then Mount found space and from an angle drew a diving save from Mike Maignan. This was better movement from Chelsea now but we had also breathed a sigh of relief when on the break Osimhen had blazed over our bar to the home crowd’s dismay.
Counter-attacking was beginning to look the most likely route to goal for both sides and it proved to be the case for Chelsea after Azpilicueta had led a Chelsea advance. Hudson-Odoi out on the other flank left substitute Yazici falling in his wake and crossed deep. In a flash, Willian had caught his volley as clean as whistle and bounced it up off the turf and past the keeper before he could even react.
Before the end, Kepa was at the feet of Osimhen to dash Lille hopes, and then he denied substitute Renato Sanches although that opportunity came from his misplaced kick.
Overall, it was a good night, and our European campaign is up and running.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Zouma, Tomori; James (Hudson-Odoi 67), Kante, Jorginho, Alonso; Willian (Pedro 84), Abraham, Mount (Kovacic 87).
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Giroud, Batshuayi.
Scorers Abraham 22, Willian 77
Booked James 35
Lille (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Zekicelik, Fonte (c), Gabriel, Mandava; Andre (Sanches 69), Soumare; Araujo (Xeka 75), Ikone (Yazici 61), Bamba; Osimhen.
Scorer Osimhen 33
Booked Ikone 44
Referee Aleksei Kulbakov from Belarus