Chelsea sealed their progress to the Champions League knockout stage with two games to spare as Olivier Giroud’s late header secured victory at Rennes.
The French striker has played just 127 minutes for the Blues so far this season, but made the most of his time on the pitch here with an injury-time finish after Timo Werner’s effort had been blocked.
Just six minutes earlier, Rennes looked to have denied Chelsea when Serhou Guirassy headed home from a corner to cancel out Callum Hudson-Odoi’s opener.
Frank Lampard’s side dominated the first half and could easily have led by more than just Hudson-Odoi’s calm finish after he had been sent clear by a pinpoint pass from Mason Mount.
They invited the home side on in the second half and had to rely on a defence that included the returning Thiago Silva and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who made a couple of good saves against his former club.
A late winner for Sevilla means both they and the Blues have 10 points in Group E, nine more than both Rennes and Krasnodar.
Lampard spoke before Tuesday’s match of Chelsea’s need to get their Champions League business done early, and will be delighted with the outcome.
Almost as important as sealing qualification is the fact Chelsea can now rest players for the final two group games, which come during a relentless December packed with tough fixtures.
Their remaining games – against Sevilla and Krasnodar – fall between league fixtures against Tottenham, Leeds and Everton as part of eight games in a month.
They will want to take the clash in Spain more seriously, with Julen Lopetegui’s side having matched the Blues in a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge and their only rivals for top spot, which in theory brings an easier tie in the last 16.
They will be full of confidence, though, having won six matches on the spin since following up that Sevilla stalemate with another at Manchester United in late October.
Tuesday’s victory could have been a bit less stressful for them had they finished the two other clear-cut chances that fell their way during their early dominance.
However, either side of Hudson-Odoi’s goal, Werner somehow found a way to scoop a shot from six yards over the bar and Mount saw a poked effort clawed wide by home keeper Alfred Gomis.
Rennes deserved the leveller when it came towards the end of a second-half display that was full of endeavour but so often short of ruthlessness in front of goal. It is clear to see why they had gone over five hours without a goal prior to Guirassy’s header.
But Chelsea recovered to take the points thanks to the ever-reliable Giroud, who was sent on by Lampard in the 69th minute and rewarded his boss in the 91st with his 30th goal for the club.
Olivier Giroud puts Chelsea back ahead in the 90th minute to send Chelsea into the #UCL Knockout Stages!
Massive goal. What a header. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/LzsZIiLo5d
— LDN (@LDNFootbalI) November 24, 2020
Chelsea make it 16 out of 17
Rennes have won just one of their last 11 games in European competition (D2 L8).
Chelsea have made the knockout stages in 16 of their 17 Champions League seasons (only failing in 2012/13).
Rennes have managed just one clean sheet in their last 14 games in European competition (2-0 v Lazio in December 2019 in the Europa League).
Chelsea have won three consecutive Champions League matches for the first time since December 2015.
Chelsea are unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions, their longest run without defeat since November 2018 (18).
Since his first European appearance for Chelsea in October 2018, Callum Hudson-Odoi has netted six goals in European competition, a haul bettered only by Olivier Giroud for the Blues in that time (12).
Since the start of last season, Mason Mount has registered eight assists for Chelsea in all competition, a joint-high among players still with the club (also 8 for Azpilicueta and Abraham).
Olivier Giroud is just the fourth player to score for both Chelsea and Arsenal in the Champions League (also Anelka, Fabregas and Gallas).