Chelsea resume the defence of their Champions League crown when Lille pay a visit to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of their last-16 battle on Tuesday night.
The Blues could only finish second in Group H to set up a tie with the Ligue 1 champions, who topped the rankings in the tightly-fought Group G.
The reigning champions finishing second in the group stages is hardly the ideal recipe for success, but Chelsea were comfortably through to the knockout rounds in the end, even if Zenit St Petersburg did hold Thomas Tuchel’s side to a thrilling 3-3 draw on the final matchday.
Following up their European success by becoming world champions earlier this year, the results have been there for Chelsea – currently on a five-game winning streak across all tournaments – but the performances not so much.
Tuchel’s men were frustrated for large periods of their showdown with Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday, and it took until the 89th minute to bag the all-important goal through Hakim Ziyech, who had previously had one disallowed at Selhurst Park.
The Blues are certainly not considered one of the favourites to go all the way in this season’s Champions League – especially with their alarming record of four consecutive last-16 exits before winning the 2021 edition – but they are no stranger to defying expectation.
Little has changed in the way of Chelsea’s home form at the fortress that is Stamford Bridge, with the Blues winning their last four Champions League games on home soil without conceding a goal, and not since September have Tuchel’s men suffered defeat of any kind on their turf.
Proceedings could hardly have started worse for Lille continentally and domestically under Jocelyn Gourvennec, who witnessed his side take just two points from their first three clashes in Group G as an early exit appeared imminent.
However, Les Dogues turned up the heat in their final trio of matches to record successive wins over Sevilla, Red Bull Salzburg and Wolfsburg to storm to the top of the rankings and make the last-16, with Jonathan David unsurprisingly leading the charge to the knockout rounds
The faltering champions are still flattering to deceive in Ligue 1, though, as they were held to a goalless draw by relegation candidates Metz on Friday evening and travel to the English capital having won just two of their last seven matches in all tournaments.
Gourvennec quickly brushed off any concerns about what the 0-0 draw could mean for Tuesday’s game, but they have not kept a clean sheet away from home in the Champions League since 2014, and Les Dogues will certainly have the underdogs label for this first-leg tie.
Lille have only ever reached the last-16 of the Champions League on one previous occasion – going down to Manchester United in the 2006-07 edition – and they suffered back-to-back 2-1 defeats to Chelsea in the group stage of the 2019-20 tournament.
Chelsea Champions League form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
Lille Champions League form:
Lille form (all competitions):
We say: Chelsea 2-0 Lille
There is always a danger of Lille breaching the opposition defence when David and Yilmaz are on song, but Les Dogues’ form since the turn of the year makes it extremely difficult to envisage any shocks in the English capital.
Chelsea have been far from inspiring despite their strong run of results, but a freshened-up team will expect to run out convincing winners and take a healthy first-leg advantage to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.