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Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta helped Chelsea forget their off-field worries by firing the Blues into the Champions League quarter-finals with a 2-1 win at Lille.

Pulisic latched on to Jorginho’s fine pass to cancel out Lille skipper Burak Yilmaz’s penalty, before captain Azpilicueta turned in Mason Mount’s cross midway through the second-half.

Chelsea prevailed 4-1 on aggregate in the last-16 battle, eventually dampening the raucous spirit of a packed Stade Pierre Mauroy.

The Champions League holders can continue their defence then, and will await a last-eight draw with an excitement to belie the Stamford Bridge club’s continued state of flux away from the pitch.

The Blues have now racked up five straight wins in all competitions, and have not lost in 90 minutes since the 1-0 defeat at Manchester City on January 15.

That is 13 matches without a loss in regular time, with the only defeat in that run being the penalty shoot-out loss to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final.

Chelsea’s build-up to this clash had seen coaches and players having to work out how the Blues would travel across to France.

Roman Abramovich’s UK sanctions have left Chelsea operating under a stringent Government licence, and a £20,000 travel budget limit per match had put a squeeze on their plans.

Statesmanlike boss Thomas Tuchel had even pledged to drive a seven-seater if that was required, such was the German’s determination to keep pushing the Blues forward on the field.

Chelsea’s sale continues apace away from the football, with the Government taking close oversight of the process.

Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale on March 2, amid Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.

Downing Street sanctioned the Russian-Israeli billionaire last week having claimed to have proven his links to Vladimir Putin.

Abramovich has always denied those assertions, but the 55-year-old’s 19-year and 21-trophy tenure as the club owner is close to an end.

Any fears Chelsea still hold for their future, however, Tuchel and his players seem quite able to block out when taking the field.

This was a patchy performance in places – but the uncertainty can account for that, and ultimately the victory proved professional in the extreme.

Jorginho’s handball gifted Lille the chance to take the lead, a penalty awarded after a VAR check.

Yilmaz blasted home from the spot in the 38th minute, shaking off any nerves to deliver in style and put the hosts ahead.

Pulisic netted on the stroke of half-time, however, to ensure the Blues would keep their two-goal aggregate advantage at the break.

And that goal, coupled with the break to reassess, seemed to afford Chelsea the head space required to hit back and seal their progression.

Azpilicueta wrapped up that step into the quarters in the 71st minute, diverting Mount’s cross into the net for another smart Chelsea goal.

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Chelsea showed they can thrive without Romelu Lukaku as Kai Havertz scored after replacing the axed Belgium striker for the 2-0 Champions League last-16, first-leg win against Lille on Tuesday. Thomas Tuchel’s side took control of the tie thanks to Havertz’s first-half header and Christian Pulisic’s clinical finish after the break at Stamford Bridge.

The holders will expect to complete their progress to the quarter-finals when they travel to France for the second leg on March 16. But Chelsea’s sixth successive win in all competitions was more a referendum on their Lukaku conundrum than an indication of their chances of retaining the trophy.

Lukaku has scored just 10 goals since a club record £97 million ($131 million) move from Inter Milan last year that was expected to launch a period of sustained dominance for Chelsea.

He touched the ball only seven times in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Crystal Palace, the lowest total by a Premier League player since 2003-04.

Despite being infuriated in December by Lukaku’s public questioning of the way he was being used, Tuchel had appeared to back him on Monday, insisting his problems were no laughing matter.

But, tellingly, Chelsea were more potent in Lukaku’s absence and it remains to be seen if Tuchel will trust his beleaguered star in the League Cup final against Liverpool on Sunday.

At least Tuchel knows Chelsea have the ammunition to damage opponents while their supposed leading man labours.

“For Kai, I’m very pleased. He’s been very strong for several weeks now. He really stepped up. The work rate is immense. The areas of the pitch he covers for us is very good. He is never shy of defending,” Tuchel said.

“Romelu struggled in the last game to deliver. Not only mentally tired, but physically, which I can understand. It was the moment to take a step back.

“Today we went with other players. For Sunday we have four days to recover and decide who plays.”

Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi paraded the Club World Cup around the pitch just before kick-off.

However, that victory in Abu Dhabi will be only a footnote in the story of Chelsea’s season if they don’t mount a strong finish to an inconsistent campaign.

This was a step in the right direction and Havertz didn’t take long to get involved.

Cesar Azpilicueta’s low cross was begging to be finished off, but the German forward poked his effort over the bar from six yards.

If that was a concern for Tuchel, he would have been relieved that Havertz looked more threatening as he cut inside for a fierce strike which Leo Jardim pushed away at full stretch.

From the resulting corner, Havertz gave Chelsea an eighth-minute lead.

Taking advantage of Lille’s woeful marking, Havertz met Hakim Ziyech’s corner with a downward header that bounced in for his seventh goal this season.

Havertz, more forceful and energetic than Lukaku on current form, needed just 15 minutes to record more touches than the Belgian managed in the entire Palace game.

After an initial bout of stage-fright, the French champions probed intelligently for openings, with Benjamin Andre’s long-range drive held by Edouard Mendy.

Tuchel’s agitated body language betrayed his frustration at Chelsea’s failure to build on their lead in the first half.

However, he got his message across and there was more urgency about Chelsea after the interval.

Marcos Alonso’s goalbound drive was diverted to safety by Zeki Celik before Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic were forced off.

Chelsea weren’t hindered by the injuries and doubled their lead with a sweeping counter-attack in the 63rd minute.

Thiago Silva started the incisive raid with a superb pass to N’Golo Kante, who advanced at speed towards the Lille area before slipping a pass to Pulisic.

Taking two touches, Pulisic steadied himself and clipped a composed finish past Jardim from 10 yards.

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Neymar was on target the day after signing his contract extension but Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) were held to a 1-1 draw at Rennes on Sunday that leaves Lille a step closer to a remarkable league title triumph.

PSG led at half-time after Neymar converted a controversial penalty award, but they were pegged back in the second half as Serhou Guirassy headed in the equalizer.

PSG are now three points adrift of Ligue 1 leaders Lille, who know they will be champions for the first time since 2011 by taking four points from their remaining two matches of the season.

The Parisians have won the French title in seven of the last eight years but they have regularly wobbled this season and the decision to replace coach Thomas Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino during the winter break looks like it will not have the desired impact.

“We will keep believing until the end, we won’t lose faith, but at PSG we need to do much better,” captain Marquinhos told broadcaster Canal Plus.

“Lille are a really good side and are winning every match. We have two games left and we need to believe, focus on ourselves and perform better.”

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Lille showed it is a serious contender to win the French league by beating Nice 2-0 to stay one point ahead of Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday.

Defending champion PSG scraped past Lens 2-1 at home to pressure Lille, and Christophe Galtier’s Lille side responded.

Veteran Turkey striker Burak Yilmaz opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a low strike from just outside the penalty area. After Nice defender Jordan Lotomba was sent off just after the break, Yilmaz’s countryman, Mehmet Celik, struck in a crisp shot from 20 meters in the 56th.

There are three games left, with Lille next away to Lens and PSG visiting a vastly improved Rennes side which is also chasing a Europa League spot.

Nice has the least defeats in the league with three and has conceded the least goals (22), compared to eight losses and 27 goals allowed for PSG.

Earlier, Neymar opened the scoring following a defensive error in the 33rd minute and captain Marquinhos scored another powerful header — just as he had against Manchester City midweek — to make it 2-0 after an hour.

But Lens exposed poor PSG defending when it scored straight from the restart as striker Ignatius Ganogo slotted home following a fine team move.

“It was a very difficult game, Lens plays very good football. I really like their style of play and we suffered,” Pochettino said. “We had to work hard for this win.”

Lens stayed in fifth place and the Europa League spot but was level on points with Marseille. Rennes can move into fifth if it wins at struggling Bordeaux on Sunday.

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino was without star striker Kylian Mbappe, who is nursing a calf injury, while central midfielders Leandro Paredes and Marco Verratti were rested for the return leg at City on Tuesday. PSG trails 2-1.

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Paris Saint-Germain cruised into the quarter-finals of the French Cup on Wednesday while striking a psychological blow in their pursuit of the Ligue 1 title, as they beat top-of-the-table Lille 3-0. It was the perfect response from PSG after their shock weekend home loss to struggling Nantes, which was overshadowed by thefts at the homes of Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos during the match. “We have had a difficult last few days, the players and their families,” said PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino. “Nobody is prepared for this kind of situation. The players did a great job to stay focused, their state of mind was extraordinary. Angel and Marquinhos felt good to play.”

In the first of two meetings between the teams at the Parc des Princes either side of the international break, the difference was a series of mistakes by Lille at key moments.

“It’s always the same, against Paris it’s in the zones of truth that it counts,” said Lille midfielder Benjamin Andre.

When Di Maria swung a low cross into the near post after nine minutes, Lille defender Tiago Djalo took a wild swing. Goalkeeper Mike Maignan lunged at the deflected ball, only pawing it towards his own goal. Mauro Icardi just needed to gather his wits before rolling into the empty net.

Icardi limped off on 36 minutes to be replaced by Kylian Mbappe, who had started on the bench.

Four minutes later, Mbappe meandered along the edge of the Lille penalty area until Zeki Celik took the bait, stuck out a knee and brought the striker down.

After outraged Lille protests, Mbappe smacked the spot-kick into the roof of the net.

“Our first half was timid, I think we watched them play a bit too much,” said Lille coach Christophe Galtier, who made clear he thought the referee had also had a bad first half.

“They have the control, the experience, they have the ability to put everyone to sleep, and when I say everyone, I mean everyone.”

Lille had a chance when they won a penalty of their own with 13 minutes to play, after Jeremy Pied’s cross from the byline struck Layvin Kurzawa’s outstretched hand.

Again Lille wavered as Keylor Navas dived to save Yusuf Yazici’s tame penalty.

“Keylor is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, his level is incredible,” said Pochettino.

Three minutes into added time, Djalo, on the halfway line, misjudged a PSG clearance. Mbappe pounced, raced away from the Lille defender and drilled the third past Maignan.

“We didn’t play a cup game,” said Galtier. “In the cup, at the end you either qualify or you’re out. The score may seem harsh, but we can’t compete with Paris if we only play one half.”

PSG, the defending champions, trail Lille by three points in Ligue 1 and a return date is on the horizon. After PSG visit third-place Lyon on Sunday while Lille host struggling Nimes, the pair meet again at the Parc des Princes after the international break.

“On April 3, it will be another approach, another competition,” said Pochettino. “We have Lyon on Sunday and then in the two weeks after that, we’ll have to recharge our batteries after these first two months of madness.”

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Jonathan David’s red-hot form continued as the LOSC forward scored both goals for the leaders at Raymond Domenech’s struggling Nantes. David has hit form at just the right time for LOSC’s title chances, his purple patch coinciding with Burak Yilmaz’s injury.

David, who didn’t net his first Lille goal until November, has now scored five in his last five outings. His first (9′) saw him slam the ball past Alban Lafont after a defensive mix-up and the Canadian international added a second with his left foot on the break (83′), set up by Renato Sanches. Lille have won their last six league matches and are not going away at the summit, while Nantes have now gone 15 games without a maximum haul.

Golovin, the Russian international, has been superb since returning from injury and he scored a fabulous hat-trick to ensure Niko Kovac’s side’s winning run continued at the start of 2021. Golovin added an assist to his triple salvo in a match that Nîmes made difficult for Monaco without being able to prevent the Principality club recording a seventh win of 2021.

After Golovin had scored two (3′ and 12′), Zinedine Ferhat inspired Nîmes’ comeback, setting up the first for Lucas Deaux (23′) and scoring the second (32′). Golovin’s fantastic free-kick (62′) put Monaco ahead again before Golovin turned provider for Kevin Volland (78′). Niclas Eliasson (81′) ensured there would be a nervy finish.

Gaêtan Laborde scored twice as Montpellier ended their winless streak at nine matches. Téji Savanier and sub Petr Skuletic scored the other Montpellier goals in a match in which Dijon scored first through Senou Coulibaly. Coulibaly was sent off for a second yellow card in the second half.

After eight home games without a win, Nice finally came good at Allianz Riviera. They were sent on their way by a Souleyman Doumbia own goal, with Myziane Maolida and Amine Gouiri adding the gloss to the scoreline.

ASSE made it seven points from three games as they beat high-flying Metz. Romain Hamoula’s free-kick was tipped onto the post by Alexandre Oukidja and the luckless John Boye ended up scoring the own goal that decided the match. SAINT-ETIENNE 1-0 METZ

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Victor Osimhen wins Best young African player

Lille have sent congratulatory message to their Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen who won the 2020 Marc Vivien Foe Best African Player in Ligue 1,

Organised by Radio France International and France 24, the award is named after the late Cameroonian midfielder Marc-Vivien-Foe.

Osimhen beat Super Eagles team-mate and Nantes star Moses Simon and eight other African star to the prestigious award.

“King @victorosimhen9,” Lille wrote on their verified Twitter handle on Monday.

“Congrats to our super striker who wins the 2020 #PrixMarcVivienFoe by @RFI as the best African player in @Ligue1_ENG.”

Osimhen, who was also voted Lille player of the season scored 18 goals and recorded six assists in 38 appearances in all competitions during the campaign.

Former Nigeria international Vincent Enyeama won the award in 2014 during his time at Lille.

Cote d’Ivoire forward Gervinho won it in 2010 and 2011, while Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal who now plays for Southampton was the winner in 2016.

Arsenal record signing and Cote d’Ivoire winger Nicolas Pepe won the 2019 edition after his fine contributions for Lille last seaso

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Lille boss Christophe Galtier has revealed that Victor Osimhen will be sold during the next transfer window.

Having scored 18 goals during his first campaign at Stade Pierre Mauroy, the 21-year-old has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.

While he did not name clubs who held an interest in the Nigerian, Galtier acknowledged that the striker, as well as Gabriel Magalhaes, would move on in the coming months.

Speaking at a press conference, Galtier said: “Regarding Victor and Gabriel, yes, I’ve known for a long time that they’re leaving.

“They’re working hard with us in the meantime. We’re working on the players who are currently here and those likely to replace them. Of course, the club is working to replace [Osimhen].’

Napoli, who have also been credited as admirers of Osimhen, are said to have agreed a deal for Gabriel.