Chelsea players celebrate after scoring their side's first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park, London, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Champions League matchups as Chelsea resumes title defense

Champions League matchups as Chelsea resumes title defense

CHELSEA VS. LILLE

It’s the only matchup that stayed the same after the Champions League draw had to be redone after a glitch. Chelsea will be even more delighted now. The European champions can still host a side that has endured an alarming collapse, with Lille going from French champions least season to midtable now, 23 points behind Paris Saint-Germain at the top. Chelsea, by contrast, has recovered from a wobble to win back-to-back Premier League games to make its hold on third place more secure.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel just needs to get record-signing Romelu Lukaku to be more prolific. Aside from two goals in this month’s run to the Club World Cup title, the striker hasn’t scored a goal against top-tier opposition since December in England. He only managed seven touches of the ball in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Crystal Palace — the fewest by any Premier League player in 90 minutes since Opta started logging the data over the last two decades. Tuchel blamed the lack of overall fluency on his players looking “a bit drained, a bit exhausted” after the Abu Dhabi trip.

Lille is also encountering frustration in attack with striker Jonathan David’s goals drying up. The Canada forward had a bright first half of the season with three Champions League goals in the group stage and 12 goals in the French league this season. But he is experiencing a drought and has not scored in his last six league games. Lille coach Jocelyn Gourvennec does at least seem to have stabilized the defense and heads to London on the back of two clean sheets.

VILLARREAL VS. JUVENTUS

Juventus hopes to return to the quarterfinals after being eliminated by Porto and Lyon at this stage in the last two seasons on an away-goals rule that has now been scrapped. It had advanced past the round of 16 three straight times before that. Massimiliano Allegri’s team is coming off two straight draws in the Italian league and has only one win in its last four games in the competition.

Villarreal, playing in the last 16 for the first time in 13 years, enters the match with forward Arnaut Danjuma in top form after he was sidelined for nearly two months because of an injury. Making only his third appearance with the Spanish club since returning, the Dutchman scored a hat trick in Villarreal’s 4-1 win at Granada in the Spanish league on Saturday. That extended the team’s unbeaten streak to four matches in all competitions and left Unai Emery’s reigning Europa League winners near the Champions League qualification places.

WEDNESDAY

ATLÉTICO MADRID VS.

MAN UNITED

If Ralf Rangnick is to win a trophy during his interim reign as Manchester United manager, it can only be by delivering the club’s fourth European Cup. The German’s team has already exited the FA Cup, but he has overseen a recovery in the Premier League since Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s firing, taking 25 points from 12 games to take United from sixth to fourth.

A sign of the 63-year-old Rangnick’s top-level coaching inexperience is that the game at Atlético is the first time he’s managed a team in the Champions League knockout phase since his Schalke side was beaten in the semifinals in 2011 — by Alex Ferguson’s United. Rangnick has been beset by reports about the challenges coaching United and it was significant that he referenced the “unity” on display in Sunday’s 4-2 win at Leeds in the Premier League. He said the result was “the best reply that they could give to some articles last week that there was some disruption in the locker room.”

Atlético is led by the longest-serving coach remaining in this season’s Champions League.

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