Frank Lampard has tried to play down the significance of this game, probably in a bid to manage expectations and pressure, but after dropping all three points to Valencia at home two weeks ago, and with a trip to Amsterdam to play Ajax looming in another two, this match has taken on extra importance. It’s not quite a must-win, not with four more games to still go after, but the margin for error is fairly small already if we are to advance to the knockout rounds.
Let’s call it a must-not-lose. (Then again, as long as we don’t make a mockery of the club by losing 7-2, we might already be doing better than certain critical darlings. Ex-darlings?)
Date / Time: Wednesday, October 2, 2019, 20.00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, France
Referee: Aleksey Kulbakov — you might remember his name from last season’s 2-1 win over Malmö FF in the Europa League Round of 32 first leg
Forecast: Afternoon showers followed by a cool night
Lille team news: After two of their worst seasons since returning to the French top flight in the year 2000, including a 17th place in 2017-18 where they escaped relegation by 1 point, Lille finished a surprising 2nd last season behind Paris Saint-Germain. And while they’ve lost a few key players over the summer, including Nicolas Pépé (€80m to Arsenal), Rafael Leão (€35m to AC Milan), and Thiago Mendes (€25m to Lyon), they’ve started the new season just as well, currently sitting in fourth but just four points off PSG’s pace.
With hardly a player over 24 in the squad, especially outside of defense, Lille are probably even younger and less experienced than Chelsea at the moment. One time U17 World Cup Golden Boot-winner Victor Osimhen is the new key man in attack, though French international Jonathan Ikoné and former France U21 star Jonathan Bamba, now practically ancient at 23, shouldn’t be slept on either.
Other familiar names in the squad include former Chelsea spare part Loïc Rémy, bright young US hopeful Timmy Weah (son of George), former Chelsea transfer target Thiago Maia, former Swansea flop Renato Sanches (who still managed to become Lille’s most expensive signing ever this summer at €25m), and long-time Southampton stalwart José Fonte, who’s now 35 but still anchors Les Dogues’ backline. Their goalkeeper is former PSG prospect Mike Maignan, who might be the only French man in history named Mike.
Lille have lost just two games at home since the start of last season, though this will be their first non-Ligue 1 home match in that span. They are coached by current French Coach of the Year, Christophe Galtier, a former defender in his third season at the club, who had made his name as head coach of Saint-Étienne over the previous decade.
Chelsea team news: Three first-team players are confirmed out — Antonio Rüdiger, Emerson, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek — but others in the squad may not be full fit either, such as N’Golo Kanté, who’s been dealing with various injuries for the better part of four months, as well as Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma, both of whom had been battling illnesses recently.
Chelsea have won two in a row in all competitions, both at home, where we had been previously winless. The squad continue to show plenty of promise as we work on issues of consistency and concentration.
Previously: Chelsea and Lille have never met in actual competition, though apparently there were two friendlies back in 1950, with either side winning once. We do share some common transfer history, especially as it relates to the summer of 2012, when Eden Hazard moved from Lille to Chelsea while a bit later, Salomon Kalou signed with Lille after being released from the Blues. Joe Cole also had a season with Les Dogues about ten years ago, playing a role in Eden’s eventual decision to join Chelsea.