Match Preview

Pre-Match Briefing: Lille vs Chelsea

The Blues have made the relatively short, 200-mile journey to northern France for our second Champions League match of the season. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview what awaits across the channel...

Tonight’s match brings together the two teams with the most shots without a goal in the opening round of Champions League matches. Chelsea attempted 22 without success at home to Valencia and Lille 17 at Ajax.

The Blues’ proud three-year unbeaten record in Europe went the way of all flesh a fortnight ago, and a home loss is not the ideal start to any group stage. But when you have trailed 0-2 at Camp Nou, had one player fewer on the field than Barcelona, and still obtained the result you needed, you do not baulk at a challenge in Europe. With both sides yet to open their account in this year’s competition there will no doubt be extra determination in tonight’s proceedings.

The hosts’ head coach Christophe Galtier has urged his young players not to fear last season’s Europa League champions, who have two of France’s 2018 World Cup winners in our travelling party. N’Golo Kante, who scored a wonder goal against Liverpool recently but missed the win over Brighton, trained yesterday and Olivier Giroud has shaken off an illness.

Chelsea are aiming to avoid defeat at Lille and take our unbeaten away record in Europe to eight games, which will be a new club record.

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Work to be done after Valencia

A result tonight ‘is not the be-all and end-all – we have to see it in the big picture,’ Frank Lampard said yesterday. ‘But it’s a game we have to be ready for.’

Group stage statistics suggest roughly 30 per cent of clubs on zero points after the first match have qualified for the knockout rounds and 70 per cent have not. Fewer than one in 10 of teams without a point after the second game, meanwhile, have made it past Christmas in the competition. Those with one win after matchday two, on the other hand, have edged qualification by 55 to 45 per cent.

The late miss of a penalty kick awarded by the Video Assistant Referee proved costly for the Blues against a largely unthreatening Valencia a fortnight ago, but other big chances were passed over too. As a result, defeat in Europe descended on the Bridge for the first time since the visit of Paris Saint-Germain in 2016. The Blues’ last loss at the start of a group stage came against Basel three years earlier.

However, the Londoners are currently undefeated in seven on the road in UEFA competitions (five wins and two draws), and have won 10 of the past 19. A first clean sheet of the season on Saturday in the league will have buoyed Frank Lampard’s men, and more injured players are returning to the fold.

The Blues have never previously lost three in a row in the Champions League, nor the first two of a campaign. Lille, without a win in eight at Stade Pierre Mauroy in this competition, have won all four of their domestic home fixtures this season.

Lampard, only the sixth Englishman to coach a team in this competition, warned his players against switching off against a home team with plenty of attacking pace. He may also be mindful that eight of the 10 goals the youthful hosts have conceded this season have come in the second half.

Learning about Lille

Tonight’s hosts are generally called LOSC, the acronym for Lille Olympique Sporting Club, a product of the 1944 merger between Olympique Lillois and Sporting Club Fivois. Their badge includes a dog, hence the nickname ‘the Great Danes.’

Recent managers have included Claude Puel (2002-8) and Marcelo Bielsa, for seven months in 2017. The present Leeds boss was suspended after making an unauthorised trip to Chile, then dismissed. They also have several Chelsea connections: Eden Hazard, Joe Cole, Salomon Kalou and Loic Remy have played for both clubs.

This is LOSC’s first sojourn among Europe’s elite clubs since 2012/13, coming thanks to a second place finish in Ligue 1. Several stars departed over the summer, though, notably Nicholas Pepe to Arsenal. Jeremy Pied, Renato Sanches and Remy are the only LOSC players with UEFA appearance numbers in double figures.

They find themselves at the foot of Group H after a hesitant, defensive performance and 0-3 defeat at Ajax, last season’s semi-finalists. The French side, set up to counter-attack through Luiz Arajuo, squandered goalscoring opportunities but were often under siege against the hosts’ inventive front four in a high-tempo, open game. The outcome might have been different had the VAR not overlooked a penalty area shirt-tug on LOSC’s lively striker Victor Osimhen.

The French side have failed to score in five of their past six competitive meetings with English opposition, but both previous encounters with Chelsea were friendlies staged in 1950.

The first was at LOSC’s Stade Henri-Jooris on Sunday 14 May, Hugh Billington notching the Pensioners’ only strike in a 1-3 loss. Six months later on 15 November, Stamford Bridge returned the favour. Ten thousand spectators attended a Wednesday 2.15pm kick-off and Billy Gray, Ken Armstrong and Roy Bentley set up a 3-0 win for Billy Birrell’s team.

The new UEFA Europa Conference League

UEFA recently announced plans to reduce the Europa League to 32 teams and introduce a new competition, the UEFA Europa Conference League, as of 2021/22.

Their hope is that this will expand participation of member associations – currently just five countries provide almost 60 per cent of Champions League group stage participants.

In England, the participant is likely to be a team finishing seventh in the league or the League Cup-winners. Winners of the Conference League would gain entry to the following season’s Europa League.

Critics have suggested the new Thursday night competition will simply lead to more teams from countries already involved, and that the three-tier structure is beginning to resemble the long-mooted European Super League.

At the same media conference it was announced that Wembley Stadium will host the 2022/23 Champions League final.

Parlez-vous VAR?

This is one of seven games on matchday two that will feature on-pitch officials of a different nationality to the Video Assistant Referee staff – two more than on matchday one. Aleksei Kulbakov and his team are from Belarus, while Artur Dias heads up a Portuguese crew in the VAR van next to the stadium.

Barcelona versus Inter will have a Slovenia/Netherlands combination, while with Liverpool-Salzburg it is Swedish/Spanish, and Genk-Napoli Romanian/German. Locomotiv Moscow-Atletico yesterday was Israeli/Portuguese, and Real-Bruges Bulgarian/Italian. (Scottish and English officials also handled Juventus-Leverkusen on Tuesday, though they did of course share a common mother tongue.)

Coming up

Saturday’s hosts Southampton, who have a clear week, are currently two points up on their total from seven matches last season, when they finished 16th in the table.

Chelsea Women are third after their first big win of the season – 4-0 at Bristol City – but now pause for internationals before resuming with a home derby against WSL leaders Arsenal on Sunday 13 October.

Andy Myers’ Under-19s follow up their see-saw 3-3 UEFA Youth League draw against Valencia at Cobham by taking on LOSC today at Area de Luchin, several miles outside Lille.

Brazilian breaking into 300 club

Should he be selected, Willian will make his 300th appearance for Chelsea tonight. The Brazilian will become the eighth overseas player to achieve the milestone for the club.

1. Petr Cech 494
2. Didier Drogba 381
3. Branislav Ivanovic 377
4. John Mikel Obi 372
5. Eden Hazard 352
6. Cesar Azpilicueta 346
7. Gianfranco Zola 312

The Paulistano will also be the first South American to reach that landmark in royal blue.

Champions League results and fixtures – Matchday Two

Real Madrid 2 Club Brugge 2
Atalanta 1 Shakhtar Donetsk 2
Galatasaray 0 PSG 1
Juventus 3 Bayer Leverkusen 0
Lokomotiv Moscow 0 Atletico Madrid 2
Manchester City 2 Dinamo Zagreb 0
Red Star Belgrade 3 Olympiacos 1
Tottenham 2 Bayern Munich 7

Genk v Napoli 5.55pm
Slavia Prague v Borussia Dortmund 5.55pm
Barcelona v Inter Milan 8pm
RB Leipzig v Lyon 8pm
Lille v Chelsea 8pm
Liverpool v RB Salzburg 8pm
Valencia v Ajax 8pm
Zenit v Benfica 8pm