This year, UCL doesn’t mean UEFA Champions League for Chelsea, who advanced to the knockouts after beating Lille 2-1 at home Tuesday night. Instead, UCL means Unnecessarily Complicated League for the Blues as they’ve made the competition difficult for themselves at every step of the way so far and will in the knockouts as well.
Chelsea Face Difficult Champions League Knockouts
Lille Almost Play Spoiler
On Tuesday, Chelsea opened the lead against Lille in the 19th minute after a beautiful team goal starting in their own half and ending with a Tammy Abraham tap in. In the 35th minute, Cesar Azpilicueta doubled the lead with a header.
Smooth sailing into the knockouts, it seemed. A two-goal lead at home in the first half against the group’s whipping boys who have created virtually nothing with very little possession? It would have to go terribly wrong at this point.
It almost did. Former Blue Loic Remy tried to spoil the evening on his return to Stamford Bridge by scoring in the 78th minute to put his former side’s progress in doubt. However, Chelsea were able to hold on for the win.
This, though, wasn’t the first time Chelsea made their European nights difficult. In the reverse fixture, they took the lead in France, only to concede an equalizer later in the first half, before netting the winner close to time.
Wild, Crazy Matches
Against Valencia on Matchday 1, the Blues allowed the lone goal from a set-piece with 15 minutes remaining. A few minutes later, they stumbled upon a lifeline. However, Ross Barkley missed the penalty, putting the Blues in a hole from the beginning of the group.
When they travelled to Valencia on the penultimate matchday, they let the Spanish side score in the 82nd minute during a wild finish to the match that ultimately ended 2-2. Valencia didn’t even have their shooting boots on that day.
In Amsterdam, Chelsea were lucky to have an early Ajax goal ruled out by VAR before managing to win 1-0 at last year’s semifinalists. But at Stamford Bridge, an insane 4-4 draw played out which included both Ajax centre-backs getting red cards and a winning fifth goal for the Blues disallowed. This happened long after both teams scored in the opening four minutes, the first an own goal from Abraham.
Every match, Chelsea have found a way to shoot themselves in the foot. Whether it’s poor defending, set-piece nightmares, or missing penalties, Chelsea made the group stage unnecessarily difficult for themselves. Fun, but difficult.
Pick Your Poison
It doesn’t get much easier when looking at the possible matchups in the Round of 16. Before the second half of Matchday 6 even takes place Wednesday evening, 14 teams have already qualified. Just for good measure, all eight group winners are locked in, none of which are named Chelsea.
That’s what they get for finishing second in the group, an 80% chance of matching with a giant. Chelsea could face Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona, or RB Leipzig. Knowing Chelsea’s Champions League history, especially this decade, fate would only match the Blues with PSG or Barcelona. Of course, though, they’ll be praying for Leipzig.
Had the West Londoners finished first in the group, they wouldn’t have to worry about playing a European giant, but where would the fun in that be?
It would be completely out of Chelsea’s character to make light work of their continental campaign this year. Advancing with a game to spare like Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur is not part of the Chelsea’s DNA this year. Nor would winning the group be part of that team makeup.
Maybe this will turn out to be positive. Seeing this young, fun, fast, exciting Chelsea team go toe-to-toe with Barcelona, PSG, Bayern, or Juventus will certainly be must-see TV and supremely fun to watch. Plus, this group of youngsters could use the experience and disappointment (assuming they lose) to their advantage in future forays into Europe.
Who knows, maybe they’ll give them a run for their money and make the big boys sweat come springtime.
Maybe they’ll even win and move on, which will do wonders for confidence.
Either way, Chelsea have accomplished the first goal on their preseason checklist: getting to the last 16. It may not have gone exactly according to plan, but they finally arrived.
Chelsea are playing with house money in the knockouts with no expectations of going on a deep run. Maybe they’ll surprise people with a knockout victory. Maybe they’ll bow out easily.
What is for sure, they’ll make it more difficult in the Champions League knockouts over two legs than it needs to be.