Lille: Chelsea's Champions League foes have ex-Premier League men and 'cold assassin' in their ranks

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Chelsea are set to welcome Lille to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 showdown on Tuesday night.

The Blues will aim to put themselves in a commanding lead ahead of next month’s second leg in France as they look to keep the defence of their European crown alive.

However, they may have to be wary up against the French champions, who carry a number of threats and some familiar Premier League faces. Ahead of Tuesday’s opener, Sportsmail are on hand with the full rundown on Chelsea’s opponents. 

Lille are set to make the trip to Chelsea in the Champions League last-16 on Tuesday night

Lille are set to make the trip to Chelsea in the Champions League last-16 on Tuesday night

Form this season 

So far in the Champions League Lille have been impressive to say the least, taking 11 points from a possible 18 in the group stage and managing to beat Red Bull Salzburg and Sevilla to top spot in Group G.

The same cannot be said for their league form, however, which has been highly disappointing on the back of their title-winning heroics last season.

After becoming champions for the first time in a decade, Lille have put up a feeble defence of their title in 2021-22, winning just nine out of 25 in the league and languishing in 11th as a result.

The French champions have endured a miserable defence of their crown this season

The French champions have endured a miserable defence of their crown this season

Jocelyn Gourvennec's side are languishing down in 11th place as a result of their poor form

Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side are languishing down in 11th place as a result of their poor form

Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side have conceded 35 goals in total, which is only the 10th best defensive record in the division, and have scored an equally-uninspiring 32 – the lowest tally inside the top 12. Bottom-club Bordeaux have found the back of the net 37 times.

They head into Tuesday’s clash with Chelsea on a difficult run of form, too, having suffered two defeats in their last four league matches, including a 5-1 hammering at the hands of PSG, and winning just one of those games. 

Damaging departures  

Lille’s bid to retain the Ligue 1 title took a significant blow when Christophe Galtier, the coach who masterminded their triumph, announced he would be resigning just two days after getting his hands on the trophy.

Galtier’s four-year stint at the Stade Pierre Mauroy was a successful one, with two top-four finishes and a Ligue 1 title to show for his time in charge, but after ending the club’s decade-long wait for league glory he decided to bow out on a high and pursue a new challenge.

The Frenchman told L’Equipe: ‘I am quite simply convinced that I have done my time here. That this four-year cycle is long enough for a coach.’

Lille have been rocked by some huge exits since winning Ligue 1, including Christophe Galtier

Lille have been rocked by some huge exits since winning Ligue 1, including Christophe Galtier

Goalkeeper Mike Maignan while in action for Lille

Boubakary Soumare gestures while in action for Lille

Goalkeeper Mike Maignan (L) and midfielder Boubakary Soumare (R) also left last summer

As well as Galtier, who now manages Ligue 1 rivals Nice, Lille lost a number of key players in the previous summer transfer window.

First-choice goalkeeper Mike Maignan was offloaded to AC Milan, midfielder Boubakary Soumare joined Leicester, and forward Luiz Araujo sealed a move to Atlanta United FC in the States.

The trio’s departures coupled with Galtier’s exit hit them hard, with three defeats coming in the first six matches of their title defence. By the time January came around, Gourvennec had steadied the ship and embarked on nine-game unbeaten run while securing top spot in their Champions League group.

Yet that was before Lille once again decided to cash in on some of their important figures in the January market. Midfielder Jonathan Ikone and defender Reinildo Mandava were sold to Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid respectively, while Yusuf Yazici was loaned out to CSKA Moscow. 

Losses against Brest and PSG then shortly followed, plunging their chances of a top-four finish and Champions League qualification into serious doubt. 

Before Lille’s visit to the Bridge, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said about their opponents: ‘They have a fantastic coach and group of players. They were very competitive when I was in Paris. You could feel they are a strong and emotional club. Quality of players and coach was exceptional.

‘You could feel they could have a chance to fight constantly for a a place in the Champions League. From there [Ligue 1 title], they lost players and coach so it’s a huge change.’  

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel feels Lille have been paying the price for too many departures

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel feels Lille have been paying the price for too many departures

Key men 

While the domestic season has so far been a miserable one for Lille, they still possess some high-quality players with the ability to hurt Chelsea on Tuesday night.

Their biggest threat comes in the shape of 22-year-old striker Jonathan David, who has bagged 16 goals in all competitions this term and is attracting interest from Premier League trio Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle.

David, who has earned 27 caps for Canada and played a starring role in their drive towards World Cup qualification, is ruthless in front of goal and could make Chelsea pay if presented with an opportunity in west London.

Former Scotland defender Steven Caldwell was a member of Canada’s coaching staff up until last year and witnessed the youngster’s breathtaking talent up close.  

Jonathan David is Lille's top scorer this season and will represent their biggest threat

Jonathan David is Lille’s top scorer this season and will represent their biggest threat

David has bagged 16 goals this term and is described as being a 'cold assassin' in front of goal

David has bagged 16 goals this term and is described as being a ‘cold assassin’ in front of goal

The 22-year-old is believed to be on Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle's radar this summer

The 22-year-old is believed to be on Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle’s radar this summer

‘Jonny is pretty special and I think he can play for any team in the world,’ Caldwell told BBC Sport. 

‘He’s a great defensive centre forward; he’s really smart and takes good lines of pressure, cuts off easy passes into midfield. He will make life difficult for [N’Golo] Kante, Jorginho or [Mateo] Kovacic.

‘But he’s got great composure and he’s deceptively quick. He eats up the ground; he’s very good at everything but has a lot to improve on, which is crazy.

‘He’s strong-minded and very focused; he backs himself and he’s grown in the time I’ve known him, but he’s never really changed. That’s rare when you move to a different country so young.

Angel Gomes has spent the last 18 months at Lille

Jose Fonte has been a mainstay of the Lille defence

Lille also have some ex-Premier League men, including Angel Gomes (L) and Jose Fonte (right)

‘He puts on a game face; he’s a cold assassin and very clinical.’

As well as David, Lille will also be bringing a selection of ex-Premier League faces back to England on Tuesday.

Former Southampton and West Ham defender Jose Fonte has been a mainstay at the back since moving to the club in 2018, while Swansea flop Renato Sanches has rediscovered his best form at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in recent years.

Ex-Manchester United youngster Angel Gomes has spent the last 18 months at Lille after waving goodbye to Old Trafford, racking up 18 appearances this season, and Newcastle hero Hatem ben Arfa is also a backup member of the squad at the age of 34.

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