BY PAUL LAGAN at Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille France
The young – Tammy Abraham and the not so young – Willian scored the goals that secured the three vital Champions League points for Chelsea against feisty French outfit Lille tonight in the Stade Pierre Mauroy as the west Londoners won 2-1.
Birthday boy Abraham, 22 and Willian 31 scored the goals but it was the work off head coach Frank Lampard and his coaching staff that must take equal credit for the win.
Lampard opted for a three at the back formation to start the game with youngster Reece James the surprise inclusion as a right-sided midfielder/wing-back.
That brave decision and the attacking substitution on 68 minutes when he brought on Callum Hudson-Odoi who set up Willian’s winner proved that the Chelsea legend was not afraid to make the tough and unexpected calls.
One could have half-expected, that following the 1-0 reverse to Valencia in the opening game of the group, that Lampard would have gone for the tried and tested – the experience of Oliver Giroud and Ross Barkley over Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount. Instead those two were once again key, Abraham with the opener, Mount with the constant goal threat coupled with back-tracking endeavour.
The opening exchanges saw the Blues with a dominate degree of possession.
Lille, for their part were content to sit back and wait for a mistake. Kepa foiled Victor Osimhen on 20 minutes, heading clear from outside his penalty area after a mishap in midfield saw the Blues surrender the ball. But a two minutes later and the Blues went ahead when Tammy Abraham beat a tight offside trap and latched onto a Fikayo Tomori, defence-splitter before slotting home a delicate right-footer part Mike Maignan.
A brilliant diving save by Kepa prevented a near-certain equaliser on 32 minutes after Lille broke with lightning speed. The ball was fed wide and Luiz Araujo, who took one touch with his a left foot before smashing a daisy-cutter towards goal. Kepa dived to his left to finger-tip the ball away for a corner.
But as a result, the corner kick produced the equaliser when Osimhen headed home unchallenged.
Reece James was yellow-carded three minutes later, on 35 minutes, for a needless challenge.
Alonso tried a free-kick from the edge of the Lille area after Mason Mount was upended. But the Spain defender clipped the ball high and wide.
He was unlucky with a glancing header from a Mount free-kick just before the break. Jorginho rattled Maignan’s left post with the last kick of the half as the Blues recovered from the unsettling set-back.
There were no changes by either side at half-time The Blues started well, once again, Tomori heading over a Willian corner on 48 minutes.
But the best chance fell to the home side, five minutes later. Kepa had to get another finger-tip to a Benjamin Andre header from the resultant corner – once again set-piece fragility being exposed.
Lampard decided to make an attacking substitution on 68 minutes – bringing on Callum Hudson-Odoi for James.
Another blistering counter-attack by LIlle , almost saw the hime side take the lead on 71 minutes but Osimhen skied his angled effort.
With 13 minutes left on the clock, that Hudson-Odoi substitution proved to be inspired. The wing-man brushed aside his challenger, wide on the left before clipping onto the far side of the Lille penalty area a wonderful pass. Willian was the gleeful recipient as he smashed a right-footed volley into the ground. The ball zipped past Maignan and into the far corner of the net to restore the west Londoners’ lead.
A purple of Kepa interventions, one of his own making after a messy attempt to clear the ball prevented the home side from an equaliser deep into add3d time.
Chelsea return to Premier League action, on Sunday with an away trip to Southampton.
Teams Chelsea, Kepa, Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Abraham, Willian, Zouma, Mount, James, Azpilicueta, Tomori
Subs: caballero, Christensen, Pedro, Kovacic, Hudson-Odoi, Batshuayi
Lille: Maignan, Gabriel, Fonte, Osimhen, Ikone, Araujo, Bamba, Celsius, Andre, Soumare, Mandava
Subs: Cesar, Soumaoro, Xeka, Remy, Yazici, Sanches, Bradaric
Referee: Aleksei Kulbakov