The Champions League draw is always a lottery, with even the supposed safety net of the seedings not always working in a club’s favour, as clubs underperform in the group stages. When the draw was made last week, there were collective sighs of relief from Chelsea fans. There is no doubt that there were certainly tougher clubs that could have been drawn out of the hat, but the club and its fans would be naïve to already be looking forward to the next stage. LOSC is not the gimme some are thinking it will be.
There are other factors that will undoubtedly come into play. There is no doubt that that old chestnut fixture congestion will raise its head, but that is something that will have to be managed as it always is at this stage of the season. Chelsea’s form has dipped at just the wrong time, but if there are going to be postponements, it could help get the club back playing the way they were at the beginning of the season, but it will kick the whole fixture congestion can down the road for the latter stages of the Champions League.
LOSC were a team few outside France would have heard much of prior to their incredible season last year. Ligue 1 had become almost meaningless in terms of the title race with PSG facing a battle with Celtic and Bayern to see who would secure their domestic title earliest in the year. Last season LOSC turned that on the head, pipping the Qatari owned outfit to the title by one point.
That result did not come out of nowhere for those who follow French football. Two seasons earlier they had finished second, albeit 16 points behind PSG, and the following season they came in fourth. Christophe Galtier was the man who was largely responsible for resurrecting Lille’s fortunes. From the time he took over the side in December 2017, a side that looked on the verge of relegation, he built a team that was capable of not just staying in Ligue 1, but one that could challenge for a Champions League place. They did that of course and more, eventually winning the title. Just days after achieving that however, he resigned, moving to Nice.
New coach blues
New head coach Jocelyn Gourvennec has not found it easy to carry on where Galtier left off. The team currently sit in 11th place, 20 points behind PSG. They also looked like they would struggle to qualify for the last sixteen in the Champions League. In a group with Sevilla, Wolfsburg and Salzburg, LOSC opened their campaign with a 0-0 home draw to Wolfsburg, a loss in Salzburg and another goalless affair at home to Sevilla. Three straight wins, notching up six goals and conceding just 2 not only got them into the draw but also shows that they do offer Tuchel’s side a sterner test than many would assume.
On paper, Lille don’t have any world-class, stand out stars. Their forward line, and the two players who have scored the vast majority of the Champions League goals are Jonathan David and Burak Yılmaz, from Canada and Turkey respectively. Dutch centre half Sven Botman, forward Timothy Weah and midfielder Renato Sanches are the other players to look out for.
The club, based in the Hauts-de-France region in the north of France, not far from the Belgium border, have turned their form around, and at the time of writing were 10 games unbeaten in all competitions, their last defeat a narrow 2 – 1 loss away to PSG. Momentum is huge in cup competition and the club will in all likelihood be in better form than Chelsea going into their fixtures together.
There is something else that may change the footballing landscape for the two clubs, and that is the little matter of the January transfer window. There are many rumours circulating concerning Chelsea, both in and out. That will be the same just over the English Channel, and we won’t know exactly how both clubs are looking until the first week of February.
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