A Lille side sitting in mid-table in Ligue 1 head to London to face Chelsea this week hoping to play the role of “party poopers” against the reigning European champions, their coach Jocelyn Gourvennec told AFP.
Recent Club World Cup winners Chelsea are heavy favourites to beat Lille in their Champions League last-16 tie as Thomas Tuchel’s side look to retain the title they won by beating Manchester City in last season’s final.
Lille already exceeded expectations just by reaching the last 16 of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time since 2006/07 and, as they make the short trip to the other side of the English Channel for the first leg, their aim is to keep the tie alive for the return.
“We are competitors so we will not be going there just to be Chelsea’s sparring partners, that’s for sure,” Gourvennec said.
“They are a great team but there are always surprises in cup matches and we want to be the party poopers, as we have been since the beginning of this Champions League campaign.”
The side from France’s far north caused a major upset by winning the French title last season ahead of star-studded Paris Saint-Germain and they then topped their Champions League section above Austrian champions Salzburg, Sevilla and Wolfsburg.
However, they find themselves in 11th place in the French top flight two-thirds of the way through this season, nine points adrift of the podium with only the top three qualifying for the Champions League.
Gourvennec always faced an enormous challenge following on from Christophe Galtier, the title-winning coach who departed for Nice after last season.
They lost French international goalkeeper Mike Maignan to AC Milan and midfielder Boubakaray Soumare to Leicester City before this campaign began, and in January winger Jonathan Ikone — capped four times by France — was sold to Fiorentina.
Lille are a club with financial difficulties, even with the millions generated by a run in the Champions League, but Gourvennec hopes they can compete on the field over two legs with one of the most powerful teams in world football.
“We will need to resist the pressure, especially in the first leg so we have a chance for the return,” said the 49-year-old, who played alongside Claude Makelele in the Nantes team that reached the Champions League semi-finals in 1996 before losing to Juventus.
Tuesday’s match will be followed by the second leg at Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy on March 16.
“We need to try to create chances, but we will need to really be at a high level and raise our game.”
Lille have tended to look to Canadian striker Jonathan David for inspiration this season, with his tally of 16 goals including three in the last three Champions League group games.
However, he has not scored at all in 2022, while veteran Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz has struggled to rediscover his form of last season and has also not found the net this calendar year.
Gourvennec, who is also waiting to see if Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches will be able to play, believes Lille need to approach the game in the same way as they go into meetings with PSG.
The Qatar-owned club, who had Tuchel as their coach from 2018 to December 2020, were beaten by Lille in France’s season-opening Champions Trophy last August and then had to come from behind to win 2-1 in Paris in October.
However, PSG then won 5-1 in Lille earlier this month.
“We will need to be solid, defend well and hold on to the ball when we win it back,” said Gourvennec, who also played for Marseille in the 1999 UEFA Cup final alongside the likes of Laurent Blanc and Robert Pires.
“It will be a bit like our matches against Paris in that we will have to try to keep possession, make our opponents do the running and have spells where we calm the tempo of the game because we can’t be chasing the ball all the time.”
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