Chelsea secured qualification to the Champions League knockout stage after a late goal from Olivier Giroud as it ended Rennes 1-2 Chelsea.
The Blues had led through Callum Hudson-Odoi’s cool first-half finish, but were pegged by late on by Serhou Guirassy’s textbook header after lax marking from a corner. However, Chelsea’s veteran Frenchman showed brilliant instinct to loop home the powerful winning header at Roazhon Park.
Chelsea made a number of changes ahead of the midweek match, owing to the hectic schedule. Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Thiago Silva and Callum Hudson-Odoi all came in for the away side, with Lampard giving a rest to N’Golo Kante, Hakim Ziyech and Reece James. Additionally, Antonio Rudiger dropped out as expected, to be replaced by the Brazilian.
With confidence flowing through Chelsea veins from the team’s recent run of good form, it took less than five minutes for Lampard’s side to carve out a chance that really should have seen them open the scoring.
Looking to impress on a rare start, Hudson-Odoi crossed in brilliantly from the right towards Werner, who had lost his man and was free to tap home from just a couple of yards but somehow smashed it over the bar when it looked harder to miss. After the opening stages of the game were dominated by the visitors, Rennes started to grow into the game by the 20 minute mark and had a half-chance from a corner that caused slight panic in the Chelsea box before Mendy eventually claimed the ball.
In a fixture that they knew would see them qualify for the knockout rounds if victorious, it was important that Chelsea got off the mark early and they made a good start to the game count after 22 minutes. Good pressure from Mount saw the midfielder win the ball back inside his own half before quickly looking up to see Hudson-Odoi in behind the defence and running through on goal. Mount found his man with a perfectly weighted ball over the top and Hudson-Odoi made no mistake as he touched it down and finished expertly past Gomis in the Rennes goal. It was a wonderful counter-attacking football from Chelsea that resulted in a wonderful goal.
Marauding runs forward from Rennes attacking full-backs had left a lot of space in behind, however, it needed to exploit correctly, which is exactly what Hudson-Odoi did and Lampard will want to see more of that from the youngster who has struggled for game time. The lead would have been doubled with 15 minutes left of the first half, however, Rennes goalkeeper Gomis pulled off an inspired save to keep his side’s deficit at one. It was a brilliant moment from Mendy’s successor at Rennes, who had initially dived to try and claim a cross and then had to react with lightning speed to stop Mount tapping into an empty net.
As half-time loomed, Rennes seemed to suddenly kick into gear and had a couple of chances for themselves that would have seen Chelsea happy to go into the break 1-0 up. A careless Ben Chilwell back pass almost gifted the home side an equaliser, however, veteran defender Thiago Silva got back just in time to spare his team mate’s blushes, before captain Azpilicueta bravely headed a free-kick away just on the referee’s whistle.
Half Time: Rennes 0-1 Chelsea
A one-nil lead for the away side at half-time was the same scoreline as in Group E’s other match, Krasnodar v Sevilla, and if results stayed the same both Chelsea and Sevilla would qualify for the knockout rounds after just four games.
Three minutes into the second half and Werner thought he had made up for his glaring miss at the start of the first half, as he nodded the ball into the back of the net from an Azpilicueta cross, however, the linesman’s flag was up as the German had strayed just offside.
Despite struggling to create chances and have many meaningful efforts on goal, Rennes continued to improve after the break and it was important for Chelsea to try and get the goal to kill off the game as soon as possible. It looked like the Blues would be awarded a third penalty in two matches against their French opponents, but inexplicably, Tammy Abraham was penalised for an alleged foul instead.
Aware of their slim lead, Chelsea made changes to try and regain control of the match, as Kante and Giroud replaced Abraham and Mount on the 68′ minute. The next big chance fell to Rennes as Guirassy was denied excellently at the near-post by Mendy before the Senegalese stopper denied Nyamsi with a stunning save from the corner.
Chelsea made another brace of substitutions on the 75th minute as Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech replaced the industrious Kovacic and Hudson-Odoi. However, as the game ticked into the final five minutes, the home side grabbed a deserved equaliser.
With their eleventh corner, Benjamin Bourigeaud whipped in towards the near post, and the unmarked Guirassy – who had slipped away from Havertz and Silva – powered home brilliantly past Mendy.
The goal seemed to wake Chelsea back up. A textbook free kick from Ziyech was floated to the far post, but Ben Chilwell’s header was poor and claimed by Gomis at the second attempt. However, as the game ticked into the final minute, the man in the headlines snatched the vital winner.
Hakim Ziyech stole the ball high up the pitch and drove towards the box, slipping the ball into Werner. Although the German continued his poor evening by shooting straight at Gomis, the ball spun up into the air invitingly. Giroud powered towards the ball and unleashed an unstoppable header into the net, past the despairing Gomis and two covering defenders. Rennes 1-2 Chelsea was perhaps flattering to the away side.
Chelsea saw out the final minutes comfortably, to book their place in the Knockout stages. Frank Lampard’s side face Russian side Krasnodar on Matchday 5, and will be looking to continue their 100% record.
Full Time: Rennes 1-2 Chelsea