Tuchel’s side uncomfortably progressed into the quarter-finals of the Champions League
Chelsea came back from behind to seal an uncomfortable progression into the quarter finals of the Champions League with a 2-1 away victory against Lille. Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta found the net for Thomas Tuchel’s either side of half-time to cancel out Burak Yilmaz’s first half penalty.
A roaring Stade Pierre-Mauroy fuelled a Lille team who aggressively flew out of the traps, pressing the reigning Champions League holders in relentless fashion. And their tireless start to the contest resulted in the home side halving the Blues’ advantage, as Burak Yilmaz smashed the French giants into the lead from the penalty spot after Jorginho was penalised for handball.
However, the Italian maestro made up for his huge error on the stroke of half time when he provided the perfect eye of the needle pass for Christian Pulisic to slide an equaliser past Leo Jardim. In the second half, Lille could have regained the lead and levelled the tie, as a floating Yilmaz header beat Mendy but also the far post, , while Xeka rattled the woodwork with a powerful header from close range.
But the Blues’ immense experience shone through, as Cesar Azpilicueta converted Mason Mount’s cross at the back post to put the tie beyond the French giants. Here are five things we learned as Chelsea progressed into the quarterfinals.
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Yilmaz’s fired Lille into the lead from the penalty spot
Mendy’s biggest weakness
Edouard Mendy arrived into the Stade Pierre-Mauroy having kept 14 clean sheets in his last 18 Champions League matches for the Blues. The Senegalese shot-stopper has been almost faultless since his £28million move from Rennes; however, Mendy, like all goalkeepers, is not without weakness as his limitations.
One of his first involvements in the contest came when his attempt of a chipped pass found the stands instead of Blues’ captain Cesar Azpilicueta, while he nearly gifted Lille with a careless first time pass which only just missed Jonathan David and Yurak Bilmaz. Fortunately for the Blues, his excellent shot stopping skills, handling, agility, and command of his penalty area more than makes up for any
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Sarri may have been right all along
Maurizio Sarri’s deployment of N’Golo Kante as a more advanced ‘Number 8’ was often met with derision and ridicule. Kante’s predatory instinct for spotting danger coupled with his sensational tackling ability led many to the conclusion that he should be deployed as a defensive midfielder who protects the back four.
However, Kante’s deployment on the right side of a midfield three by Tuchel means the Frenchman has the freedom to maraud forward and win the ball high up the pitch. While Kante’s is usually partnered with Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho, his efficient display would likely have Sarri lighting a cigar in his honour.
Jonathan David is made for the Premier League
Jonathan David has been linked with a huge move to Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham – if his performance against the Blues is anything to go by, then he is more than ready for a move to the Premier League. The Canadian spearheaded Lille’s initial press from the frontline, causing panic and forcing mistakes from a normally assured and solid Chelsea backline.
He also created an opportunity for the reigning Ligue 1 champions by intercepting the ball in the midfield and driving through the Chelsea lines at terrifying speed, before laying the ball off for Yilmaz. David appears to have all the attributes for any Premier League team, whether it’s a side who prefers to hit the opposition on the counterattack or one who wants to dominate possession and win the ball back high up the pitch.
Havertz could be the strike partner Lukaku craves
Earlier in the season, Tuchel experimented with a Chelsea frontline that was spearheaded by a strike partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner. Since then, the German has flanked the £97.5m man with an array of Chelsea’s attackers from Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic, Mount, and many more,.
However, he has never partnered the Belgian forward alongside Havertz. The German, who has been in excellent form having contributed four goals and one assist in his last three Premier League appearances, linked with Pulisic beautifully and helped create the space for the American’s goal. Considering the fact Havertz can effectively drop between opposition lines and Lukaku thrives when partnered with a player who does just that, it’s almost hard to believe that they are yet to start a match as a strike partnership.
Havertz linked up with Pulisic and Lukaku brilliantly
Complacent Chelsea almost learn harsh lesson
A 4-1 aggregate victory connotes a smooth progression into the Champions League quarter-finals, but this victory was far from comfortable for Tuchel’s side. Chelsea looked to be clinging onto their 2-0 victory from the first leg in the opening exchanges until Yilmaz’s penalty jolted them back into life like a glass of ice cold water was thrown over them.
Better opposition would have punished the Blues’ slow starts to both halves and Tuchel himself would know that his side cannot afford to begin their upcoming European matches with the same complaceny. Chelsea’s ruthlessness in front of goal saw them finish the contest in a very comfortable position – on another day, Chelsea could have been ruing their opening lapses in concentration.