Chelsea produce results in footballing limbo

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That performance wouldn’t feature in an accompanying brochure, but Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Lille on Wednesday gave potential new owners a timely reminder of the winning machine they are about to buy.

The Blues weren’t particularly impressive at Stade Pierre Mauroy and looked set for a tough night when Burak Yilmaz converted a 38th-minute penalty, but Christian Pulisic’s clinical finish just before the break and a Cesar Azpilicueta effort in second period facilitated them in the Champions League quarter-finals.

The draw takes place in Nyon on Friday, hours before the deadline set by New York-based investment bank Raine Group for interested parties to submit their formal offers to buy the world and European champions, valued by owner Roman Abramovich to £3 billion.

They always buy a team competing in Europe thanks to the kind of display that underlines their pedigree at this level: Finding a way to achieve their goal despite a disappointing 90 minutes because they still mustered enough quality in the final third to send their industrious but limited hosts.

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The preparations were not easy. Chelsea’s last visit to this ground in October 2019 – also a 2-1 win but then in the group stage under Thomas Tuchel’s predecessor Frank Lampard – was overshadowed by a row emanating from photos showing midfielder Ross Barkley eating a kebab and chips and arguing with a taxi driver in Liverpool a few days earlier.

Catering and travel are still on the agenda, but with much greater urgency these days, given the restrictions placed on them under the UK government’s license to continue operating after Abramovich’s sanction for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir. Putin.

The club’s travel plans for Lille were finalized ahead of last Thursday’s government intervention but Tuchel had barely taken his seat in his post-match press conference before being presented with the latest difficulty, UEFA indicating a likelihood that Chelsea could not sell tickets for the quarter-final they had just reached following Abramovich’s sanction by the European Union on Tuesday.

“Thank you for ruining my evening,” Tuchel replied upon hearing the news, moments after celebrating with the traveling assistance housed at the upper level of the goal they were attacking in the second half, a moment of unity that he and they could live for a while. .

The likeable and erudite German continues to navigate a devilishly difficult path expertly in his role as both coach and ambassador.

New owners often want to install their own head coach, but it’s hard to imagine a coach negotiating that fate better than Tuchel, especially as results have remained positive since Abramovich first hinted at a split the day before Chelsea take on Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final last month. .

The Blues lost that match – by the narrowest of margins in a penalty shootout – but have since beaten Luton Town, Burnley, Norwich City, Newcastle United and now Lille in a race that strikes at the heart of culture encouraged at the club. over many years, which is well before the arrival of Tuchel.

“We are all competitors and I always experienced from day one once I was part of the family, a very competitive spirit and a very competitive club,” Tuchel said.

“Chelsea are so clear about what they demand of every employee and every player: play your part, play to the limit, rise to the occasion and take responsibility.

“That’s Chelsea and it sharpens your mentality and brings out the best in you because it’s normal to do that on a daily basis. Because that mentality has taken hold over the years and the years, over the decades. , that’s why it’s possible that we can stay focused.

“It plays a big part in why we can produce results the way we do right now when things are uncertain and unstable around us – because it’s already there.”

Few expected them to beat Manchester City in the Champions League final last season and they were even more successful in the competition in 2012 when the coach changed midway through the Champions League. season.

Yet they continued to win. The source of Abramovich’s wealth has sparked debate over the purity of Chelsea’s success over the past two decades, but no one can deny the efficiency with which they’ve delivered silverware: their haul of 21 trophies since that Abramovich bought the club in 2003 is unmatched in England.

There was, however, a certain passivity here. Tuchel took the unusual step of adopting a 3-5-2 system to accommodate an additional central midfielder, presumably to shore up central areas and help stifle Lille.

In the end, it only seemed to contribute to a pedestrian display in which they barely threatened before £50m signing Jorginho snagged a pass for £57.6m signing Pulisic of pounds, to combine a moment of class Lille simply could not encounter.

“Champions of Europe, we know what we are,” chanted the fans outside, suddenly audible for the first time all night as Pulisic ended any hope of an upset.

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