Chelsea and Lille meet in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie on Tuesday night, starting with a showdown in London (8pm kick-off, UK time).
The reigning European champions play host to the reigning French champions in a fascinating match-up at the Bridge. Lille have looked a shadow of their 2020/21 selves under Jocelyn Gourvennec — currently lying in the bottom half of Ligue 1 — but they’ve enjoyed success in Europe this term and will determined to produce an upset. Thomas Tuchel meanwhile will want a response from his side after the weekend’s sluggish smash-and-grab over Crystal Palace, and what better way to react than in Europe’s premier knockout tournament?
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Chelsea team news vs Lille: Tuchel insists system is not the issue with Lukaku
A number of first-team players were missing in Chelsea’s recent 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, with Tuchel being forced to start with a back-line consisting of not a single traditional full-back. Reece James travelled to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup but had no involvement on Saturday as he continues to recover from a hamstring issue — and he is unlikely to be risked for this midweek European encounter.
Cesar Azpilicueta felt some discomfort in training last week and missed the Palace game, but Tuchel is hopeful his skipper will be back in time to face Lille, though this tie may have come too soon for Mason Mount, who is currently nursing ligament damage. “We will push for Azpi [to be back] and we will push for Mason,” Tuchel told Chelsea TV about the Lille match.
“But Mason will be very early, I don’t think we will make it but we will try and then let’s see.”
Ben Chilwell remains a long-term absentee, and Callum Hudson-Odoi pulled out at the last minute against the Eagles, so is now a fitness doubt for Tuesday. Romelu Lukaku meanwhile came under the spotlight after his near-anonymous performance against Palace, making just seven touches in the entire game. Despite his very quiet showing, Tuchel insisted after the game that it was not a tactical issue, hinting that the problem may lie with the player himself.
“No. No, it’s not about system,” Tuchel said when asked about Lukaku’s struggles against Palace.
Asked to give further detail about the Belgian’s display, Tuchel responded: “Well it is what it is. But it is for him no change of system because it’s the same attacking structure.
“We always attack in a 4-1, it’s just for the build-up sometimes we build-up in a 3-2 and sometimes in a 4-1. For him it changed nothing.”
Ziyech meanwhile was in awe of Alonso’s “brilliant ball” for his goal late on against Palace, so the Spaniard can probably expect a starting berth on Tuesday night in a possible formation switch to a back-three, rather than taking up a place on the substitute’s bench from the off.
Predicted Chelsea XI vs Lille:
- Mendy; Azpilicueta, Silva, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic; Lukaku, Ziyech. (3-5-2)
Lille team news vs Chelsea: Jonathan Bamba and Xeka return
Jonathan Bamba and Xeka both missed Lille’s final group game against Wolfsburg through suspension but they return here. Angel Gomes came off in the early stages of the weekend’s draw with Metz, so will likely be unavailable to face Chelsea, meaning his replacement on the day, Timothy Weah, or January signing Hatem Ben Arfa could come into the fold.
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Predicted Lille XI vs Chelsea:
- Leonardo; Djalo, Fonte, Botman, Gudmundsson; Ben Arfa, Andre, Xeka, Bamba; David, Yilmaz. (4-4-2)