Chelsea controls Lille to clinch UCL knockout round berth
Chelsea advanced to the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds as the second team out of Group H after a 2-1 defeat of Lille at Stamford Bridge that flattered the visitors.
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Tammy Abraham and Cesar Azpilicueta scored for Chelsea on a rain-splattered night in London, with Lille scoring via the Blues’ old friend Loic Remy.
Valencia beat Ajax in the other Group H match to send last season’s semifinalists to the Europa League.
Three things we learned
1. Uneven finishing almost undoes Blues: Make no mistake about the fact that Chelsea was in total control of this match right up until the point they looked at the scoreboard following Loic Remy’s 78th minute strike. Chelsea’s two goals came from a remarkable nine shots on target, and this could’ve been over long before any lone concession put the result in jeopardy. It happens to youngish teams, sure, but jeopardy came out of almost nothing, truly.
2. All roads lead to Abraham: You can read more about Pulisic’s strong day here, but he was one of three or even four players who drove Chelsea to so many of the above chances. Pulisic’s chemistry with Kovacic is a very real, but both joined Willian and N’Golo Kante in bamboozling the Lille backs.
3. Well, give the keeper some credit: Mike Maignan was Lille’s captain at age 24 in a Champions League match, and nothing he did made the arm band anything other than fitting. Six saves -- four from inside the box -- joined a clearance, a high claim, and two aerial duels won in making for an impressive afternoon.
Man of the Match: Kovacic, who won nearly duel he entered and barely put a pass wrong.
The match started under heavy rain, both sides adapting to the slick ball and pitch.
Tammy Abraham couldn’t find Pulisic with an early flick, and the American winger spun a left-footed shot wide of the far post in the 10th minute.
Emerson Palmeiri ripped wide of the goal and then Abraham did the same after an N’Golo Kante shot was blocked into his path.
Pulisic played a big role in Chelsea’s breakthrough, dribbling across the 18 before finding Willian, who drove the touch line and cut back for Abraham’s tap-in.
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It was 2-0 before long, Azpilicueta darting to the front post to turn a header home off a corner kick.
Great header, bad defense here:
The Blues were superior in nearly every moment of the match, with Willian and Pulisic very much at the forefront. Lille did a decent job of keeping them from truly dangerous positions, and Abraham had a little trouble finding his finish when the duo found him.
Jonathan Bamba cued up Remy’s 78th minute goal, as Frank Lampard and his men suddenly had a match to play.
Azpilicueta probably lost his Man of the Match nod when he allowed the Bamba cross to get through, though it was admittedly clever work.