Chelsea remain in control of destiny despite letting chance slip in Valencia

Daniel Wass earns Spanish side a point with equaliser at the Mestalla

 

Valencia 2 Chelsea 2

It will be difficult for Chelsea to remember that they remain in control of their destiny in this competition. Frank Lampard’s young side gave everything on a breathless night at the Mestalla and there were eight minutes left when an eccentric game took another wild turn. Kepa Arrizabalaga had been the hero after saving Daniel Parejo’s penalty but the Chelsea goalkeeper was at fault when Daniel Wass’s freakish cross sailed over him to rescue a draw for Valencia.

Chelsea, who had led thanks to goals from Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic, could not believe it. Yet if they win their final game in Group H, at home to Lille on December 10th, it will be enough to secure their spot in the last 16 of the Champions League. Chelsea remain level on eight points with Valencia, who still have to visit Ajax.

Nonetheless this was a missed opportunity. Lampard knew his players would be pushed to the limit on one of European football’s grandest stages and he needed maximum focus from them at both ends of the pitch. Small details make the difference at this level and the challenge for Chelsea, who were stung by Valencia at Stamford Bridge two months ago, was finding the ruthlessness missing from their performances in the big games this season.

There was much to admire about their football during an absorbing opening period. Chelsea settled well, with Pulisic lively on the left and their midfield trio passing crisply, and their attacking intent was typified by Reece James’s eagerness to provide regular overlaps on the right. Quick, early crosses are a feature of the 19-year-old right-back’s game and one of his teasing deliveries should have led to the opening goal in the second minute, only for Willian to head over from close range.

The ball from James deserved a better finish and it had the feel of a big miss on a night when both sides knew a win would secure their place in the next round. Valencia were cautious at first, content to play on the break, but they grew in stature as the contest progressed and they gave Chelsea an almighty scare in the 19th minute.

Rodrigo scampered behind César Azpilicueta on the right and only Maxi Gómez will know how he failed to convert his team-mate’s cross at the far post, kicking thin air when a goal looked a formality.

The home fans howled at that goof from the Uruguay forward and he would waste another chance before the half was over. This time he shot too close to Arrizabalaga after good work from Jaume Costa and Carlos Soler.

There was an air of vulnerability about Chelsea’s defence. Andreas Christensen was starting at centre back for the first time since September 28th and the Dane was having a tricky game. James was also finding it hard to track Soler’s intelligent movement and it did not come as a surprise when Valencia took the lead in the 40th minute. Rodrigo was the instigator again, crossing from the right, and Soler crept between James and N’Golo Kanté before flicking the ball past Arrizabalaga, who could do no more than palm the shot into the net.

Chelsea’s response was immediate. They had created chances of their own – Kanté had blazed over from 12 yards and Jasper Cillessen had made a superb save to deny Tammy Abraham – and the equaliser stemmed from the unlikeliest of sources. Lampard has urged Kovacic to show greater conviction in the final third and the Croatia midfielder collected his first Chelsea goal when he spun on the edge of the area before firing a low drive past Cillessen.

The goal seemed to liberate Kovacic, even if he did not quite seem to know how to celebrate. Moments later he was testing Cillessen again and the contest remained chaotic during the second half.

VAR controversy reigned when Chelsea, who had to replace the injured Abraham with Michy Batshuayi, had the ball in the net in the 50th minute. Kurt Zouma had headed on Kanté’s cross and Pulisic, flagged offside, had stolen in to prod past Cillessen. The goal was awarded after a three-minute delay, with replays suggesting Pulisic was level by the slenderest of margins. Valencia fumed, arguing that Zouma had fouled Gabriel Paulista. Ezequiel Garay would be booked for taking his protests too far.

Valencia found a second wind. They should have equalised after poor communication between Arrizabalaga and Christensen presented the ball to Rodrigo, who chipped over the empty net, and there was another momentum swing when Jorginho illegally halted José Gaya’s surge into the area.

Parejo struck his penalty firmly but centrally enough for Arrizabalaga to make a brilliant save. Valencia kept pressing, however, and they saved themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Wass, moved from midfield to right back, overhit a cross and Arrizabalaga, fooled into thinking the ball was heading over, let it go over him. When he turned round it was in the net.

Both sides had chances to win it. Zouma saw a header cleared off the line and Chelsea had another escape when Rodrigo missed an open goal in injury time. – Guardian

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