Tammy Abraham scored on his 22nd birthday and Willian supplied a decisive volley as Chelsea won 2-1 at Lillein the Champions League
For long spells it threatened to become another night when Chelsea would rue their persistent habit of following every positive step with a costly stumble. Frank Lampards young side had lost another lead, fashioned when Tammy Abraham marked his 22nd birthday with his eighth goal of the season, and had spent most of the second half labouring in the final third and fretting about being caught by Lille on the break.
There is something about Chelsea in Europe, though, a refusal to fold, an ingrained ability to dig in and snatch victories in unlikely circumstances. And here, even with four academy graduates on the pitch, they still found a way to win. There were 78 minutes on the clock when young and old combined for the decisive blow, Callum Hudson-Odoi crossing from the left and Willian, making his 300th appearance for Chelsea, meeting the 18-year-old wingers delivery with a volley that bounced into the ground and into the net.
The Brazilian had kickstarted Chelseas Champions League campaign. Despite offering few hints that a winner was on the way, they had broken Lilles resistance. Beaten in their opening game in Group H, they had bounced back and drawn level on points with second-placed Valencia, who were beaten 3-0 at home by Ajax.
Theres a long way to go but having lost against Valencia it put more importance on this game, Lampard said. Its such a tough place, the roof was on, the crowd were up for it. I thought our performance was really good. We controlled the early period. Set pieces were a problem but we deserved to win.
Lampard praised his youngsters for surviving their first experience of playing away in Europe, though there will have to be an improvement in possession and in defence when Chelsea visit Ajax on 23 October. Once again their marking at set pieces left much to be desired and they made life difficult for themselves when Victor Osimhen, Lilles biggest threat, cancelled out Abrahams opener with a free header in the 33rd minute. Kurt Zouma was at fault, losing the striker from Jonathan Bambas corner.
Chelsea have only kept one clean sheet this season and their back three endured some shaky moments. Zouma erred when the game was goalless, putting his team in trouble with a poor backpass that nearly let in Osimhen.Fikayo Tomori almost gifted Lille a late equaliser. Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelseas goalkeeper, would also get away with one in stoppage time.
Arrizabalaga did make some important saves at crucial times, though, and Chelsea were able to focus on the positives in the end. They started well, with Lampards decision to switch to a 3-4-2-1 system giving his team control, and they were ahead after 22 minutes. NGolo Kant, fit to start in midfield after shaking off a hamstring injury, combined with Tomori, who found Abraham. Played a yard onside by Reinildo Mandava, the striker turned smartly and his accurate finish showed why he is likely to be called up by England on Thursday.