LILLE, FRANCE (AFP) – Chelsea put their off-field troubles to one side to seal a place in the Champions League quarter-finals early yesterday as a Cesar Azpilicueta goal clinched a 2-1 win at Lille in the second leg of their last-16 tie, and a 4-1 aggregate victory.
Reeling from the impact of United Kingdom (UK) government sanctions imposed on their Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, the London club appeared rattled as they fell behind in northern France to a first-half Burak Yilmaz penalty.
Lille had given themselves a chance of salvaging the tie following their 2-0 defeat in the first leg at Stamford Bridge last month, but Christian Pulisic equalised on the night in first-half stoppage time and captain Azpilicueta got the winner in the 71st minute.
The reigning Ligue 1 champions go out, and following Paris Saint-Germain’s stunning exit last week it means there will be no French club in Friday’s draw for the Champions League quarter-finals.
In contrast, defending European champions Chelsea make it three Premier League clubs in the hat as they join Liverpool and Manchester City in the last eight.
“It has not been a normal last few weeks but we have to do what is in our hands, which is train the best we can. Tonight it was a difficult game and of course we are happy to go through,” Azpilicueta told BT Sport.
“This group fights against everything, we know we have to do the best we can on the pitch, we stick together and hopefully end up having a very good season.”
Coach Thomas Tuchel had insisted there could be no excuses for his team despite the Blues being left in turmoil after Abramovich’s assets were frozen, with Chelsea only being allowed to continue operating by the British government under a special licence.
They have been banned from selling tickets and were told they could not spend more than GBP20,000 per match on travel costs, throwing their plans for this trip across the English Channel into some disarray.
Before kick-off, it emerged that the Ricketts family, owners of Major League Baseball team the Chicago Cubs, were leading a consortium looking to buy the club while British athletics great Sebastian Coe announced his involvement in a rival bid.