The Champions of Europe and the World take on the Champions of France tonight in the first leg of the Round of 16 in this year’s Champions League. On paper, this matchup looks like the lucky draw for the Blues despite finishing only second in our group, and we will be considered favorites under the bright lights.
But if there is one thing we should know, it’s that anything can happen in knockout games, even two-legged ones. Lille must not be underestimated — especially considering our less than flowing football these days — and we must not look beyond this game even if there is a trophy on offer on Sunday.
Date / Time: Tuesday, February 22, 2022, 20.00 GMT; 3pm EST; 1:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano (on pitch); Alejandro Hernández (VAR) — Manzano was also in charge during our 1-0 defeat to Juventus earlier this season
Forecast: Cool and breezy
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); CBS, Galavision (US); Sony TEN 2 (India); SuperSport MaXimo 1, Canal+ Sport 3 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BTSport.com (UK); Paramount+, TUDNxtra (US); Sony LIV (India); DSTv Now (NGA)
Chelsea team news: Whatever issues may be affecting the team, the results themselves have been pretty good lately, with five wins in a row and just one defeat since the start of December in any competition. Hakim Ziyech and Romelu Lukaku have accounted for 5 of the 9 goals we’ve scored in total since that one defeat to the Champions of England, though only the former has emerged with any credit from that six-game run.
Our attacking woes are unlikely to be helped by the continuing absences of wing-backs Ben Chilwell and Reece James, while neither Mason Mount nor Callum Hudson-Odoi are expected to play a major, if any role in this game. We did get Ruben Loftus-Cheek back midweek, and hopefully everyone else is now over their jetlag, travel-colds, and post-vacation blues.
Lille team news: Lille shocked everyone with an unlikely Ligue 1 title last season, their fourth ever and first since Eden Hazard & Co won it in 2010-11. And they’ve shocked almost as much with how badly they’ve played in the league this season, currently sitting just 11th. But they did win their group, ahead of RB Salzburg, Sevilla, and Wolfsburg.
The offseason departure of manager Christophe Galtier (to Nice) has had a massive impact. Lille also lost their starting goalkeeper Mike Maignan (who went to AC Milan), while most of the rest haven’t been able to replicate their forms or successes — most crucially veteran striker Burak Yılmaz, who has just 6 goals, and winger Yusuf Yazıcı, who was sent away on loan in January. One of the three Jonathans has also left in the winter window, with Jonathan Ikoné joining Fiorentina. Jonathan Bamba has zero goals, so Chelsea-linked Jonathan David has been left carrying the torch by himself far too often.
But Lille are certainly talented enough to cause trouble, be it through youthful exuberance or veteran savvy. Their host of Premier League castoffs and veterans — José Fonte, Hatem Ben Arfa, Angel Gomes, Renato Sanches, Jérémy Pied — just might find a return to England reinvigorating.
Previously: Tuchel & Co should know Lille quite well from their time in France, but our only other meetings with them came a couple years ago in the group stages, with Lampard’s Chelsea winning 2-1 home and away. Tammy Abraham scored in both games.