After scoring the goal that ultimately proved decisive in taking Chelsea through to the Champions League knockout stages, Cesar Azpilicueta reflected on finding the right response to bounce back from a disappointing defeat at the weekend.
However, the captain also reiterated the post-match analysis of his manager in urging the Blues to score more goals when in control of games and subsequently avoid the late panic that comes with hanging on to a narrow lead.
Tammy Abraham had fired us in front against Lille at Stamford Bridge with his 13th goal of the season before Azpilicueta headed in a second before half-time. It looked to be plain sailing but a third goal evaded Frank Lampard’s side and former Chelsea striker Loic Remy ensured a nervy finale when he halved our lead with 12 minutes remaining.
‘It was very important to have a reaction from Saturday’s game,’ claimed Azpilicueta afterwards. ‘We started very well and scored two goals but in the second half we didn’t find our rhythm. We could still have scored more goals but we didn’t and in the end we had to suffer.
‘It has been happening a lot lately where we play much better than the score suggests and at 2-1 we had to suffer in the last minutes because obviously we needed to win. I hope we can finish the games earlier and enjoy them more.’
Toni Rudiger returned to the side at the back and helped contribute to a largely comfortable defensive performance. However, like in many matches this season, it didn’t take much for the opposition to find the back of Kepa’s net and they managed to score with one of their two shots on target in the game.
‘We are conceding a lot of goals,’ admitted Azpilicueta. ‘Tonight Lille arrived once and scored one goal so this is obviously frustrating because we had to suffer in the last seconds when you know one silly goal could send us into the Europa League.
‘When we play in the Champions League, we know that every detail is very important so hopefully we can sort this as soon as possible.’
However, the night was ultimately one of celebration as we booked our place among Europe’s elite in the last-16. A second-place finish in the group stage means we will be paired with one of Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona or RB Leipzig in Monday’s knockout round draw but Azpilicueta is just looking forward to the challenge of competing with the continent’s best.
‘To be with the best 16 teams in Europe is very important to test ourselves,’ he added. ‘It feels so good. The Champions League is where Chelsea belongs but we knew it was a tough group and that’s what we’ve seen. Ajax were in the semi-finals last season and are now out of the competition.
‘We had to recover and fight from the first loss against Valencia at home. We needed a near-perfect last five games and we did well. Now we have to put it to one side, we know we are going to be in the draw for the last-16 and we have to be focused on the Premier League and the FA Cup which starts in January.’