A dominant display at Stamford Bridge saw Chelsea advance to the Champions League last-16 as group runners-up after Lille were beaten by first-half goals from Tammy Abraham and Cesar Azpilicueta.
The Blues started well and were rarely troubled by a Lille side much-changed from their most recent league outing. After Emerson Palmieri and N’Golo Kante were thwarted early on, Abraham netted against the French side for the second time this season when he turned the ball in from Willian’s cutback.
Once captain Azpilicueta headed in our second 15 minutes later, our progress looked secure until Loic Remy halved the lead with a smart finish to ensure a nail-biting final 12 minutes. However, there was to be no late drama at the Bridge this time as we held strong to claim a second-place finish in Group H behind Valencia, who won in the other matchday six game against Ajax.
Toni Rudiger returned to the Chelsea side for the first time since September as one of three changes from our weekend defeat at Everton. Italian duo Emerson and Jorginho were the others to come back into the team, with Andreas Christensen, Reece James and Mason Mount dropping to the bench.
Lille made several changes from their last Ligue 1 fixture, with former Blue Remy leading the line up front.
On a grim night in west London, the wind swirled and the rain hammered down to make playing conditions rather difficult for both sides. However, it was a typically bright start from the Blues at home as they took on the challenge of claiming the three points that would secure their place in the last-16.
Christian Pulisic had the first effort at goal after 10 minutes but the American’s left-footed strike was dragged across the face of goal and wide following excellent hold-up play from Abraham. Emerson then forced a save from visiting goalkeeper Mike Maignan with a stinging shot from the edge of the box as the Blues enjoyed all the early possession and threat.
Lampard has frequently criticised his side for not converting chances when in control of games and the boss was bemoaning another spurned opportunity when N’Golo Kante had two chances to test Maignan just after the quarter-hour mark. First, the Frenchman’s attempt was blocked on the edge of the box before he struck the rebound with a first-time volley that rolled just wide.
However, frustration soon turned to celebration as the hosts broke the deadlock inside 20 minutes with a fine attacking move. Pulisic instigated the danger by driving at the heart of the French defence before slipping a pass wide to the advancing Willian on the right.
Utilising that dangerous turn of pace from a standing start, the Brazilian skipped past left-back Jeremy Pied and cut the ball back for Abraham to turn in from close range. It was the striker’s 13th goal of the season in all competitions, his second in the Champions League, and provided the Blues with a reassuring cushion early on.
Lille’s rotated side struggled to get going against a Chelsea back-line that has been questioned in recent weeks. Yet our defenders were working more in the opposition half than their own and Emerson brought another save from Maignan after cutting infield from the left and firing into the keeper’s midriff.
It was the full-backs who combined to double our advantage before the break as Emerson turned provider with a corner swung in from the right and Azpilicueta escaped unmarked to plant a header into the back of the net from a few yards out. Any lingering doubts dissipated with that comfortable lead established.
Christophe Galtier’s side had already been confirmed as finishing fourth in the group, thereby restricting any hopes of Europa League qualification, and they failed to conjure a shot on target at Kepa’s goal in the first half. Luiz Araujo went closest with a shot dragged wide minutes before the interval.
The Blues came out fast for the start of the second half, intent on netting the third goal that would end the contest and ensure their progress to the knockout round. Only an agile double save from Maignan prevented the scoreline being extended as the Frenchman denied Pulisic then Willian in quick succession.
Our number 10 stung the greasy palms of Maignan shortly afterwards with a dipping free-kick that the keeper gathered at the second attempt and Lille were slowly able to establish a small foothold in the contest for the first time, even if the chances continued to fall for the boys in blue.
The goalscorers combined nicely to fashion a sight at goal just before the hour mark, with Abraham using his strength to hold off the defender before teeing up his skipper but the Spaniard’s strike was charged down bravely in the 18-yard box.
Lille were dealt a blow when their goalkeeper had to be replaced for the final 20 minutes, though replacement shot-stopper Leo Cesar continued his predecessor’s goal-guarding by keeping out a decent effort from Mateo Kovacic shortly after his introduction.
The visitors ensured a nervy finale by scoring soon after, Remy firing past Kepa via the underside of the crossbar after substitute Jonathan Bamba had escaped down the left and provided an inviting assist.
Despite benefiting from a brief resurgence, marked by a fierce shot narrowly wide from Yusuf Yazici, the visitors failed to provide too much of a scare to Lampard’s side. Michy Batshuayi could have made sure of the group points but blazed just over following Willian’s delivery and Azpilicueta’s knockdown, while five minutes of added time ensured a typically nervy wait to the end for the home supporters.
Yet unlike previous European encounters this term, there was no late drama. Remy had the best opportunity after somehow escaping down the left channel but his final shot was tame and comfortably gathered by Kepa.
A first Champions League home win of the season came just in time to ensure our place in the last-16 in the New Year. We will find out our knockout round opponents when the draw is made on Monday. Next up is a return to domestic duties as we host Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, Zouma, Emerson; Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic (Mount 82); Willian, Abraham (Batshuayi 72), Pulisic (Hudson-Odoi 62)Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, James, BarkleyScorers Abraham 19; Azpilicueta 35Booked Zouma 45+1
LOSC Lille (4-3-3) Maignan (c) (Leo Cesar 72); Zeki Celik, Tiago Djalo, Gabriel, Pied; Soumare, Xeka, Maia (Bamba 66); Yusuf Yazici, Remy, Araujo (Renato Sanches 82)Unused subs Fonte, Osimhen, Ikone, BradaricScorer Remy 78Booked Zeki Celik 40; Xeka 67
Referee Tasos Sidiropoulos from GreeceCrowd 40,016
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