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Back Chelsea -1.5 in the handicap betting section – which in effect means a home win by a two-goal margin or more. Lille are not one of the 16 best teams in Europe and that should be apparent on Tuesday.
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With all due respect to Lille, they were the team that everyone wanted to get when the draw for the Champions League round of 16 was made back in the middle of December. Their Ligue 1 title triumph last term was a remarkable achievement. Lille beat a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain side to the crown despite having only a fraction of the capital club’s budget. But the team that will take to the field on Tuesday is very different to that which won the trophy last season, as we will explore below.
Talking of remarkable achievements, Thomas Tuchel’s work in guiding Chelsea to Champions League glory last season was right up there with Lille’s Ligue 1 success. When the German took charge towards the end of January, Chelsea were in a slump. Frank Lampard, while still popular with the club’s supporters, was struggling to create a winning formula on the pitch. The Blues were in danger of slipping out of the top four in the Premier League, and few envisaged them even making the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Yet Tuchel made an instant impact at Stamford Bridge. The previously leaky defense suddenly became rock-solid. Chelsea became more effective in attack too, while there was greater structure to their play both in and out of possession. They deservedly beat Atletico Madrid, Porto and Real Madrid en route to the final of Europe’s foremost competition, where a Kai Havertz goal brought a 1-0 victory over Manchester City, the pre-match favorites.
City, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool are more widely fancied to win this season’s competition, but it would be wise to not write Chelsea off. Tuchel’s team have already shown they have what it takes to go all the way to the trophy, and this last-16 tie gives them a fantastic opportunity to reach the quarter-finals.
It is unusual to find a team that has reached the last 16 of the Champions League toiling in mid-table of their domestic league, but that is the position Lille find themselves in right now. In fairness, les Dogues were always going to struggle to even come close to replicating last season’s accomplishment.
Christophe Galtier, the manager who oversaw the triumph, departed at the end of the campaign. He was followed through the exit door by several key players, including Mike Maignan, Boubakary Soumare and Jonathan Ikone. Lille may have finished fourth in the 2019/20 campaign, but no one saw a title tilt coming. The stars aligned and it was never going to be realistic to expect something similar this time around.
The group stage draw for the Champions League did do the French champions some favors. Lille were in Pot 1 courtesy of their Ligue 1 win, but they still could have been paired with the likes of Liverpool, Ajax and AC Milan. Instead they were drawn alongside Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla and Wolfsburg.
That always made progression more likely, but Lille nevertheless deserve credit for topping the group. They did so despite failing to win any of their first three games. Victories in each of their three subsequent encounters saw them climb above Red Bull Salzburg and into top spot, setting up this last-16 tie with the holders.
Tuchel will be instructing his players not to get carried away, but the simple fact is that Lille will be no match for Chelsea if the latter play to their potential. Complacency is unlikely to be an issue given Tuchel’s intensity and the high-stakes nature of the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Chelsea have not always breezed through home games against opponents they are expected to beat. They drew with Everton and Brighton & Hove Albion at Stamford Bridge in December. Burnley left west London with a 1-1 draw the previous month. Chelsea needed extra time to get past Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup fourth round a fortnight ago. If Lille can defend stoutly, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could cause Tuchel’s side problems.
Even so, it is difficult to envisage anything other than a routine home win on Tuesday. Chelsea have an abundance of attacking quality and they should be able to break Lille down without too much difficulty. If they score the first goal the visitors to London will be obliged to push up the pitch, and Chelsea are well equipped to exploit the extra space they will be afforded. A win by two goals or more is a likely outcome.
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|Chelsea vs Lille Information|
|Teams||Chelsea vs Lille|
|Location||Stamford Bridge, London, England|
|Time||Tuesday, 22 February 2022, 3.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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