Champions League Group H: Chelsea v Lille
Kick-off: 8pm. Venue: Stamford Bridge. On TV: Live on Virgin Media Two and BT Sport 2.
A troubling statistic before Chelsea attempt to secure their place in the last 16 of the Champions League by beating Lille on Tuesday evening: aside from the Carabao Cup victory over League Two's Grimsby Town in September, Frank Lampard's young side have not held a half-time lead at Stamford Bridge since the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United on August 31st.
It has been a common sight this season, Chelsea getting bogged down at home after failing to build on fast starts, and Lampard needs his players to discover the clinical edge they have shown on the road when they host Lille.
“We wanted more in our home games and quite a lot of it has been chance conversion,” said the Chelsea manager.
“Away from home, we’ve gone and racked up some goals and some really good performances, and scored early in the game. But when you play well at home, but don’t score for 45 minutes, you kind of add the pressure on yourselves. We need to take our chances, especially ones that come early in a game. If you’ve got pressure, you need to convert it.”
Yet while it could be another tense occasion in front of their supporters, Chelsea would have taken this situation after opening their European campaign with a home defeat by Valencia.
Lille are out after picking up one point from five games in Group H and a Chelsea win will leave Ajax and Valencia fighting over the other qualification spot in Amsterdam. A draw would leave them relying on the Dutch side beating their Spanish counterparts.
Not that Lampard will take anything for granted after the 4-4 draw with nine-man Ajax last month and the wild 2-2 with Valencia a fortnight ago.
Chelsea, who have not won at home in the Champions League since September 2017, have lost three of their last four games in the Premier League and have to react after Saturday's 3-1 defeat by Everton.
It is an occasion that calls for composure and Lampard, who is likely to stiffen his back four by starting Antonio Rüdiger for the first time since September 14th, will find out if his players are capable of expressing themselves when the stakes are this high.
“I think you can be defined as an individual and as a group by success and what success looks like,” he said.
“And this means going into the next stage of the Champions League. I used to love big nights as a player. It’s opportunities now for the team, particularly the young players, to make a mark. I like the pressure of this game being a knockout. If we’re going to do anything good here then we are going to need lots of these nights.”
While a lack of ruthlessness in attack explains why Chelsea are monitoring Moussa Dembélé, Jadon Sancho, Wilfried Zaha, Timo Werner and Fyodor Chalov, there are issues in defence as well.
Lampard was furious after the Everton game and admitted his players failed to show enough personality in the individual duels. Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen were awful in central defence and Lampard, whose side have kept just one clean sheet in their last nine games, is worried about the form of his goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Zouma said a lack of communication has been a problem and it is a mark of his side’s vulnerability that Lampard, who could pursue a £40m move for the Bournemouth defender Nathan Aké in January after Chelsea’s transfer ban was halved last week, could replace Christensen with Rüdiger against Lille. The German is Chelsea’s best defender but he has only played 45 minutes this season due to injuries.
“It’s potentially difficult but our guard against that was to give him a lot of work,” Lampard said. “We’ve managed to create some things behind the scenes here in training that look like match play – and some pure running as well. He’s come through that. You only speak as you look at him and he looks fit and ready to go and I know he’s hungry.”