Tammy Abraham displayed the impeccable timing of a natural goalscorer as he found the net on his 22nd birthday and Willian made a case for his enduring talent with a late winner as Frank Lampard’s team clinched their first points in Europe.
Abraham’s first goal in the Champions League eased Chelsea ahead in northern France and issued a reminder to Gareth Southgate as he prepared to name his squad on Thursday for Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
Southgate is expected to include Abraham and it will be interesting to see if he selects Fikayo Tomori who created the first goal in Lille. The England manager will be acutely aware both are eligible for Nigeria if he overlooks them and Tomori can also represent Canada.
The future looks bright for Lampard’s young Eurostars with a Champions League debut for 19-year-old Reece James and an important contribution from the bench by Callum Hudson-Odoi who supplied the cross for the winner.
The icing on the cake, however, came from 31-year-old Willian who converted the ball from Hudson-Odoi with a volley which skidded into the turf and flashed past goalkeeper Mike Maignan. Victory eases the strain on Chelsea in Group H ahead of two daunting fixtures against Ajax.
Willian was making his 300th Chelsea appearance and there was a welcome return for N’Golo Kante, back in the team after the latest in a succession of injuries which stretch back to a knee injury ahead of the Europa League final.
Kante’s determination to play in the final against Arsenal in Baku and ensure qualification for the Champions League set him back with a long lay-off and an incomplete pre-season and a series of niggling muscle problems.
Alongside Jorginho in the heart of a 3-4-3 formation akin to the one in which he thrived in his first season at Stamford Bridge under Antonio Conte, he helped Chelsea seize control of the game.
They dominated possession with Lille content to sit deep, let their visitors have the ball and hope for a mistake or a quick break out of defense.
Kurt Zouma almost obliged with a poor header back to Kepa Arrizabalaga which left his goalkeeper in a race with Lille’s in-form striker Victor Osimhen.
Kepa was alert to the danger, dashed from his area and headed clear. Abraham fired Chelsea ahead midway through the first half. Picked out by a pass from Tomori, he turned and finished coolly. Lille appealed for offside but the replays proved there was no offence and the goal stood.