Chelsea vs Lille
Current UEFA Champions League champions Chelsea defeated French champions Lille for the first leg of their round-of-16 tie. The Blues calmly dispatched their opponents with goals in either half from Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic. Lille huffed and puffed through Jonathan David and Renato Sanches, but the London club remained unflustered. Thomas Tuchel made the big call to drop Romelu Lukaku after his downward form and Havertz took his place. Jocelyn Gourvennec prepared his side in a 433 that only managed to trouble Chelsea in some moments. Although they created some good chances and took a lot of shots, AFCON 2021 winner Edouard Mendy was never really worried. Here are four things we learned from the tie at Stamford Bridge.
Kai Havertz is Chelsea’s best striker at the moment and that spells danger for Romelu Lukaku
Within the first 10 minutes of the game, Havertz had three shots on target and a goal to back up what would be a fantastic performance. He gave Chelsea the fluidity they have been lacking in recent weeks and found his shooting boots too. His defensive efforts were commendable as he showed intention on and off the ball. This performance was the type he showed towards the end of last season as they lifted the UCL. Chelsea should have prioritized getting more goals around him rather than a striker to replace him. He is performing in this number 9 role and should continue ahead of Lukaku in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.
Lille continue to underwhelm under Jocelyn Gourvennec
If you watched the spirited and enthralling performances of Lille last season on their way to the Ligue 1 title, you’ll be appalled by the performances they are putting this season. They are 11th in Ligue 1 and even though they managed Champions League progression, they were too easy for Chelsea to handle. Lille had the ball but made too many errant passes with cohesion a major problem for the team. They relied on Renato Sanches to drag the ball forward and even though he tried his best, it was not enough. Jonathan Bamba and Xeka were guilty of giving away possession cheaply while surprise starter Amadou Onana failed to impose himself on the game. Jonathan David was lively, but could not turn it into goals. Lille have a serious fight on their hands if they want to qualify from this tie.
More injury woes for Chelsea
The result may have been nice but the circumstances were not. Chelsea lost Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic to injuries. Both men had to be substituted. Chelsea are still dealing with long-term injuries to Reece James and Ben Chilwell. The London club has lost so many important players along the campaign and it has halted their Premier League charge. Ziyech was finding his best form since his Ajax days but again injuries have halted things for him. Kovacic has also been in fine form this season but he sustained a second major knock this campaign. You just have to feel sorry for Thomas Tuchel.
N’Golo Kante and Thiago Silva were unplayable
Kante got the assist for the Pulisic goal but his game was more than that. It was harassing, stealing, and driving forward with the ball. He was at his immaculate best up against Benjamin Andre, Xeka, and Renato. The French midfielder was a thorn in their flesh. He was nipping the ball and breaking up their play at will. When he plays at this level, there are not many midfielders better than him.
Thiago Silva behind him was just as impressive. The 37-year-old Brazilian made 12 ball recoveries against his former Ligue 1 adversaries. He was imperious against attacks, snuffing out danger before things became serious. Silva is making a strong case for Chelsea’s player of the season. What a player! What a legend!