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Azpilicueta to return but four out as Tuchel looks to play strongest hand against Lille

Team news for tomorrow’s Round of 16 first leg

Chelsea Training and Press Conference Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Chelsea’s Champions League knockout campaign begins with a home date against defending French champions Lille, who may be struggling a (fair) bit this season down in 11th in the Ligue 1 at the moment, but will probably present a much greater threat than that on such a big occasion.

Thomas Tuchel, who of course played against them multiple times as PSG head coach, has made it clear that he’s looking to play our strongest hand against them, even if we have a League Cup final to deal with on Sunday as well.

“We take it match-by-match more than ever before. We try to always do it like this but now is the moment to be super focused on every match, not worry about the big picture because that would make us look at a lot of different pictures and different environments.”

“[Lille], they do struggle [but] here are reasons why they do. They had a fantastic coach and fantastic players. They were very, very competitive when I was in Paris. You could feel that it was a strong group, a strong squad, and a very emotional club [and] they became champions which is huge in France. From there, they lost players and the coach so there’s a huge change.

“[But] still, we all know how physical French football is, the offensive players are physical and fast. They are very brave in one-on-one challenges. They are always a threat on counter-attacks and disciplined against the ball. They have the chance to play this game as underdogs and have the mentality with nothing to lose and they will take it from there.

“It is like this always that you respect the game and the opponent. We will prepare our team like we always do and hopefully find the best performance that we usually do in knockout and cup matches and play a competitive match tomorrow.”

Will our strongest hand include Romelu Lukaku? Tuchel called him “always part of the solution” but is he an active part? I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

Chelsea v Palmeiras: Final - FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021 Photo by Michael Regan - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

We should be getting captain César Azpilicueta back, which could open up options tactically to play with either wing-backs or with a back-four. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like Callum Hudson-Odoi or Mason Mount will be ready, while Ben Chilwell and Reece James remain out.

“Azpi looks much better than Callum. Let’s start with these two. Callum did not train yesterday, Azpi trained and has no reaction, so if it stays like this, which it seems to be, then he’s available for tomorrow.

“Mason did a very good individual session, I think he will try to come back to team training today (Monday). He was out maybe a little bit too long to start. Perhaps he is involved in the squad, but he has not trained with the team yet.

“And Reece is still out, and Chilly out.”

-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London

With no away goals now in these two-legged elimination games, the calculus is simple. Score more than the other team, and advance.