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Heineken UCL Special: Defending Champions Chelsea Look To March On Amid Uncertain Future

Heineken UCL Special: Defending Champions Chelsea Look To March On Amid Uncertain Future

Chelsea will hope to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals when they take on Lille in the Round of 16 second leg on Wednesday night.

There is a lot of uncertainty at Chelsea at the moment, with the club facing a change of ownership, while the capital giants have been hit with a number of restrictions due to the UK government sanctions against current owner Roman Abramovich.

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Before the sanctions against Abramovich and subsequent impact on his beloved Chelsea dominated the talk around Stamford Bridge, Thomas Tuchel’s side dazzled under the bright lights of Europe to put one foot firmly in the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite tournament.

The Blues claimed a healthy 2-0 lead in the first leg at Stamford Bridge and will once again aim to do their talking on the pitch amid the unprecedented circumstances off it.

Head coach Thomas Tuchel and his players can only control matters on the field, though, and the Blues put their issues aside on Sunday evening to record a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Newcastle, which made it five straight wins in England’s top flight and strengthened their control of third position.

Chelsea, the defending champions, were the top favourites to advance to the next round when the draw was made, and they reaffirmed those sentiments by winning the first leg 2-0 at home.

Kai Havertz had his name on the scoresheet after just eight minutes courtesy of a bullet header past a hapless Leo Jardim in the Lille goal, and Christian Pulisic slotted home with 63 minutes on the clock to cap off a professional display against Les Dogues in the first leg.

They now go to France in search of a good result against a team that is theoretically inferior.

Despite the financial restrictions, Tuchel has affirmed that his side will travel to Lille to finish the job no matter what, and his players have done a sterling job of focusing on the task at hand on the pitch in the past week or so.

Related: Heineken UCL Special: Real Madrid Vs PSG: Time For Messi To Prove His Worth For Ambitious PSG

FORM GUIDE

Lille are unbeaten in their last three games in Ligue 1, with the French side drawing 0-0 against AS Saint-Etienne at the weekend.

The Ligue 1 champions reached the Champions League Round of 16 after topping Group G ahead of Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla and VfL Wolfsburg. Meanwhile, Chelsea progressed to the current stage after finishing runners-up in Group H behind Juventus.

Lille’s form and fortunes have nosedives this season, with the reigning Ligue 1 champions falling off a cliff following Christophe Galtier’s departure last summer. But Les Dogues have shown some improvement in the past month, with the defeat to Chelsea being their only loss in their previous six outings.

As for Chelsea, the last time they lost a game in regulation time was exactly two months ago, with Manchester City handing them a 1-0 defeat at the Etihad. And while the Blues have won their last four games in a row, their performances remain unconvincing, especially in the final third, with Thomas Tuchel’s charges hardly fluent in their forward movement. But issues off the field are likely impacting the west Londoners in more ways than one.

KEY STATS

*LOSC Lille have lost each of their three UEFA Champions League matches with Chelsea – two group stage matches in 2019/20 and the first leg of this current Round of 16 tie, going down 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. Indeed, the French giants have not lost more often in the competition against any other side, also losing three times versus both Manchester United and Valencia.

*After winning only one of their first eight Champions League away games against French sides (D2 L5), Chelsea have won each of their last two – 2-1 vs Lille in 2019/20 and 2-1 vs Rennes in 2020/21, although both of those came in the group stage.

*Lille’s only previous appearance in the last-16 also ended in defeat at the hands of English opposition in Manchester United back in 2007,

*When winning the first leg of a UEFA Champions League knockout tie, Chelsea have gone on to progress from nine of the 11 match-ups. However, their two failings did come when playing the second leg away from home – vs Barcelona in 1999/00 (quarter-final) and Liverpool in 2006/07 (semi-final).

*Lille have been eliminated from each of their previous three European knockout ties when losing the first leg, the 2004/05 UEFA Cup Last 16, the 2006/07 UEFA Champions League Round of 16, and the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League Round of 32. The last Champions League side to progress against the holders after failing to score in the opening leg was Arsenal (vs AC Milan) back in 2007/08, though the first leg did end level.

*Thomas Tuchel is set to take charge of his 50th UEFA Champions League game. He has won 31 of his 49 so far, with a victory here setting a new record for most wins by a manager upon reaching a half-century of games in the competition (currently Zinedine Zidane, 31).

PREDICTION

Chelsea’s off-field issues have invariably impacted performances on the pitch. But Thomas Tuchel has galvanised his unit superbly, with the Blues showing the fighting spirit that champions are made of. The game against Lille should help them showcase the same quality again.

Chelsea have done an excellent job of ignoring the outside talk and circumstances surrounding the club’s ownership while matches are there to be won, but they will face a hard time trying to break down Gourvennec’s stubborn rearguard.

However, Lille have no other formula than all-out attack as they seek to pull off a remarkable comeback, but such an approach will leave them vulnerable to Tuchel’s clinical crop as the Blues stroll into the last eight.

SCORES: Lille 1-2 Chelsea

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