From Stamford Bridge – A much-improved Chelsea secured a comfortable first leg lead over Lille in the Champions League last 16 at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.
It was all about game management for Thomas Tuchel’s side, who never looked like conceding and ran out comfortable 2-0 winners courtesy of strikes from Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic.
Starting centrally after the faltering Romelu Lukaku was dropped, Havertz was the protagonist in the opening exchanges – spurning two fine chances and before taking a third inside ten minutes. First, Cesar Azpilicueta found him with a low cross just four minutes in, but just four yards out the German conspired to lift a prodded finish over the bar.
Next came a chance of the languid forward’s own making, as he collected a pass on the left flank before cutting inside and bending a shot towards the far corner. Lille keeper Leo Jardim produced an excellent save to palm the ball around the post, but from the resulting corner Havertz rose unmarked to head Chelsea into the lead.
The hosts seemed contented with Lille having possession thereafter, picking them off and playing through the Ligue 1 sides’s slightly disjointed press on the counter. Les Dogues’ best effort actually came from a Chelsea player, when Antonio Rudiger inadvertently diverted a cross just over his own crossbar.
Lille did piece together some nice passing moves in the first period, with former Bayern Munich and Swansea man Renato Sanches a central figure, but they lacked end product. The Portugal international made one excellent break from midfield, but his long-range strike flew well over.
There was a poignant moment in the 31st minute with applause in memory of Jamal Edwards, the creator of the SBTV YouTube channel and lifelong Chelsea supporter who passed away earlier this week.
Chelsea started the second period with intent, and a couple of lung-busting runs from Pulisic almost yielded the second, but Hakim Ziyech saw his shot saved. Marcos Alonso then saw a crisp goal-bound strike blocked in front of the goalkeeper.
Havertz had the opportunity to double his account when he nicked the ball on the halfway line shortly before the hour mark, but he was forced slightly wide and blazed his shit over from the angle.
The Blues’ dominance of the half eventually told when Pulisic finished off a sweeping counter attack that had N’Golo Kante at the heart of it. The Frenchman carried the ball from his own half before slipping Pulisic in to his left and the number ten did the rest inside the penalty area.
Although they saw plenty of the ball, Lille never truly threatened and Chelsea will take a commanding lead into the second leg in early March.
Here’s how the Chelsea players rated…
Thiago Silva was beastly as per usual / JUSTIN TALLIS/GettyImages
Edouard Mendy (GK) – 6/10 – Dealt with a couple of efforts that were straight at him. Didn’t have much else to do, in truth.
Andreas Christensen (CB) – 7/10 – Smooth alongside Thiago Silva. Saw plenty of the ball and helped link defence and midfield with neat passing.
Thiago Silva (CB) – 8/10 – Got through plenty of excellent defensive work in the opening ten minutes alone, heading, blocking, tackling and harrying. Read everything so, so well.
Antonio Rudiger (CB) – 6/10 – Very nearly netted a calamitous own goal. Settled but didn’t make his trademark marauding runs forward.
Kante made several excellent bursts from midfield / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages
Cesar Azpilicueta (RWB) – 6/10 – Lucky to escape an early booking for a scything challenge. Supported the attack well and delivered some fine crosses.
N’Golo Kante (CM) – 8/10 – Broke the lines with his passing and moving. Struggled on occasion in the midfield battle, but his runs relieved so much pressure and one led to an assist.
Mateo Kovacic (CM) – 6/10 – Busy as ever but only won three of his seven ground duels. Forced off soon after half-time with a knock.
Marcos Alonso (LWB) – 6/10 – Drew the ire of his manager with a couple of sloppy pieces of play. Battled hard and almost notched, but his goal-bound strike was blocked. Subbed.
Havertz celebrates his opener / JUSTIN TALLIS/GettyImages
Hakim Ziyech (RF) – 7/10 – Perfect set-piece delivery for the opener and some silken footwork elsewhere. Pulled up ten minutes into the second half and was eventually forced off.
Kai Havertz (CF) – 7/10 – His 50th Chelsea start, and he marked it with a goal – but only after missing a sitter and a decent chance inside ten minutes. Excellent downward header to open the scoring. Ran hard as ever.
Christian Pulisic (LF) – 8/10 – Looked in confident mood. Popped up centrally after the break and made some driving runs which should have led to more. Lovely finish after Kante slid him in. One exceptional bit of defensive work, chasing all the way back and making a perfect challenge. Subbed.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (CM) – 6/10 – Slotted seamlessly into the midfield. Booked for a mistimed lunge.
Saul Niguez (LF) – 6/10
Malang Sarr (LWB) – 5/10
Timo Werner (RF) – 5/10
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