Chelsea beat Lille 2-0 in first leg of Champions League clash
Chelsea defeated Lille 2-0 in their Champions League round of 16 matchups in the opening leg. Meanwhile, Juventus drew 1-1 at Villarreal, giving Dusan Vlahovic a fantastic start to his first season in the top flight.
After eight minutes, Kai Havertz headed in Hakim Ziyech’s corner, and Christian Pulisic was the recipient of N’Golo Kante’s excellent run and ball in the 63rd minute, as the Blues gained a critical first-leg advantage.
Romelu Lukaku, who has been out of sorts, was only used as a substitute, with Havertz providing the significant offensive danger – and the German almost scored twice before his early strike.
Injury to Ziyech and midfielder Mateo Kovacic ahead of Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley were the only blemishes on an otherwise positive night for Chelsea and manager Thomas Tuchel.
The excellence displayed by senior defender Thiago Silva and excellent midfielder Kante summed up Chelsea’s calm and professional performance against a fiery Lille outfit.
Silva used a magnificent effort to make a mockery of his 37 years, spending the majority of the night in cruise control, demonstrating mastery and great placement to suffocate any threat.
When needed, the Brazilian has a burst of speed and is such a polished performer that he has become a cult figure among Chelsea supporters, who sang his name throughout the game. Silva is a world-class defender and leader who appears to be getting better with age.
Another plus for Tuchel was the return of Kante to top form, bridging gaps and launching assaults from all over the pitch – he was in constant motion at all times and was a vital part of his team’s engine room.
The surging run and precise pass to Pulisic allowed the forwards to lift a finish over the onrushing Lille keeper Leo Jardim for a second goal that could prove vital in the race for a spot in the last eight was the best example of what Kante provides to Chelsea.
Tuchel is likely to be concerned. Kante’s midfield partner Kovacic went out after picking up a knock in the first half, while Ziyech limped off as well.
But there was enough to be happy about as Chelsea looks to defend the title they won in Porto last June against Manchester City.
Kai Havertz, who scored the game-winner in Chelsea’s Champions League final victory last season, was on target against Lille.
Lukaku was not called in Chelsea’s late substitution
Chelsea’s record-breaking £97.5 million signing Lukaku was the centre of attention after his lacklustre performance against Crystal Palace on Saturday. In that 1-0 triumph, he only touched the ball seven times, one of which was the kick-off – the lowest total by a player who has played a complete 90 minutes in the Premier League since statistics began in 2003-04.
It added to the uncertainty around the striker’s future at Stamford Bridge, and he started the match on the bench, even though this was likely the type of occasion for which Chelsea paid Inter Milan that cash.
Havertz came in as Chelsea’s attacking spearhead, and the sluggish 22-year-old did an excellent job by putting in a well-rounded effort and kicking them off with that early header.
When he turned Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross over the top from six yards and forced Jardim into a fantastic save, the German could have opened his account early on.
With a downward header, Havertz ensured he was on the end of Ziyech’s next corner, and the man who scored the winning goal in last season’s final proved to be Chelsea’s Champions League talisman once more.
Even when Tuchel made a late substitution upfront, Timo Werner replaced striker Pulisic, not Lukaku.
This was a fantastic night for Chelsea and their manager, but the Lukaku problem will persist until the striker, who has had an unsettling season thus far, begins producing.
Many hoped he would give their frontline a cutting edge and put the finishing touches on their Champions League-winning team from the previous season.
Lukaku’s moment may come against Liverpool at Wembley on Sunday, but Tuchel went into this game with Havertz’s more complete game and goal threat – and it paid off, as Chelsea are now in a solid position to reach the quarter-finals.