BY PSUL LAGAN at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea made heavy weather of their 2-1 win in their final group Champions League match against Lille, tonight at Stamford Bridge that saw the Londoners into the next stage of the premier European competition.
The fact that sighs of relief from the fans echoed along with cheers at the final whistle spoke volumes of the schizophrenic performance exhibited by the home side.
They cruised to a 2-0 first half lead thanks to goals from Tammy Abraham and Cesar Azpilicueta before falling asleep in the second, allowing their French visitors to grab a goal and set up a tense final minutes, where a late equaliser coupled with Valencia winning in Ajax would have seen the Londoners dumped into the Europa League.
As it turned out, Chelsea finished second behind Valencia in the table with Ajax slipping into the Europa competition.
It will be a concern for head coach Frank Lampard that Chelsea stagnated in the second 45 minutes – his substitutes failed to inject the necessary high tempo and control required to see off their vastly inferior opposition.
A long strike by Antonio Rudiger, on five minutes, found Tammy Abraham, but the striker wasn’t able to control the ball, and it ran safely to Mike Maignan.
The long ball certainly appeared to be Chelsea’s best outlet, and on 10 mins Zouma fed a deep left-footer to Abraham, who controlled the ball well, sliding it off to Christian Pulisic. the Us striker’s low, scuffed left-footer, from just outside the Lille penalty area, inched wide of the goal.
An inspired piece of play by Nog9lo Kante’s saw a byline cross knocked into the path of Emerson. The Brazil left back thumped a goal-bound effort which Maignan did well to parry away.
Kante was next to tee up a shot, on 17 minutes, but his effort also went wide of goal.
But the pressure finally told, a minute later and Abraham was on his own to gap home from close-range after Pulisic and Willian set up the young England striker.
The total domination by the west Londoners achieved the right result on 35 minutes when Emerson’s corner was bullet-headed home, from close range by an unmarked Cesar Azpilicueta.
Lille decided to have an effort on goal,- four minutes from the break, Luiz Araujo’s left-footed daisy-cutter, had the power by not a goal-bound direction.
There were no changes by either side at half_time.
Within seconds ones of the restart, Maignan thwarted Pulisic and Willian efforts as the Blues attempted to reassert their authority straightaway.
The stopper spilled a Willian free-kick seconds later but recovered at the second attempt.
Head Coach Frank Lampard decided to introduce Callum Hudson-Odoi for Pulisic on 62 minutes.
Michy Batshuayi came on for Abraham on 71 minutes just as Lille replaced injured goalkeeper Maignan for Leo Cesar.
These changes suited the French side and ex-Blue Loic Remy smashed home a fierce left-footer on 78 minutes to sow seeds of doubt in the 40,016 Chelsea fans in the stadium.
Lampard opted to bring off Kovacic for Mason Mount with nine minutes to go.
A turn and volley by Batshuayi with minutes left on the clock would have eased their concerns, but the Belgium striker flashed his left-footer over the crossbar.
Chelsea are back at the Bridge, on Saturday, when they face Bournemouth in the Premier League.
Teams: Chelsea, Kepa, Rudiger, Jorginho, Kante, Abraham, Willian, Zouma, Kovacic, Pulisic, Azpilicueta, Emerson,
Subs; Caballero, Christensen, Barkley, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Batshuayi, James
Lille: Maignan, Djalo, Gabriel, Xeka, Remy, Araujo, Yazici, Celia, Maia, Soumare, Pied,
Subs: Cesar, Fonte, Osimhen, Ikone, Bamba, Sanchez, Bradaric,
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