Champions League: Willian volley hands Chelsea victory in Lille
Lille: Willian volleyed home in the 78th minute to give Frank Lampard’s Chelsea a 2-1 win away to Lille in France on Wednesday that they will hope kickstarts their Champions League campaign.
The Brazilian’s fine strike, on his 300th appearance for the club, came after Tammy Abraham’s opener for the visitors on his 22nd birthday was cancelled out by a Victor Osimhen goal for Lille under the closed roof at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Chelsea are now off the mark in Group H after losing at home to Valencia a fortnight ago, although it is Ajax who continue to top the section with a maximum six points thanks to their 3-0 victory away in Spain.
Lampard’s team face the Dutch club next and will do so with renewed belief after this potentially pivotal victory.
It was a game decided by one of the most experienced players on the pitch but which was bristling with exciting young talent as these clubs adjust to seeing their standout players — Eden Hazard on one side, Nicolas Pepe on the other — depart in the close season.
Lampard fielded two 24-year-olds as well as four more players aged 22 or under in his line-up here, as teenager Reece James started as a right wing-back in a 3-4-1-2 system.
James only made his top-team debut for the club a week ago in a League Cup tie against fourth-tier Grimsby Town.
Much has been made of Lampard’s promotion of youth this season in response to Chelsea’s transfer ban, although their team here also featured N’Golo Kante, with the France midfielder returning from his latest spell on the sidelines.
Indeed, the average age of Chelsea’s team at kick-off was actually a year older than that of Lille, despite the French side being captained by 35-year-old Portuguese centre-back Jose Fonte.
They need look no further than Ajax — thrilling semi-finalists last season — to see how far a young team with an element of surprise can go in this competition, although right now it is hard to imagine either of these sides reaching the latter stages.
Hudson-Odoi helps change game
They did serve up a highly entertaining contest, though, with Chelsea taking a 22nd-minute lead when Fikayo Tomori’s ball into the box was not dealt with by the home defence.
Abraham — capped by England but eligible for Nigeria through his father — emerged from an onside position to control and fire home his eighth goal of the season from close range.
Lille actually looked the better side going forward for long spells and Luiz Araujo was denied by a good Kepa Arrizabalaga save at the end of a counter-attack led by Jonathan Bamba just after the half-hour mark.
Moments later they were level, Bamba sending in a corner from the left for Osimhen, the gangly 20-year-old Nigerian striker signed in the summer, to rise and head in his seventh of the campaign.
Jorginho struck the outside of the post with a first-time strike from range just before half-time, while Kepa stretched to tip a Benjamin Andre header around the post early in the second half.
However, the introduction of Callum Hudson-Odoi, the youngest of the lot at just 18, for James midway through the second half, and subsequent change of formation, breathed new life into the visitors going forward.
Mason Mount was denied by a fine Mike Maignan save soon after, and just 12 minutes remained when winger Hudson-Odoi crossed from the left all the way to the back post where Willian connected first-time with a volley that bounced down into the ground, over the goalkeeper’s head and in.
There was no way back for Lille, who have now failed to win any of their last 13 matches in European competition.