Lampard wary of being caught cold by a Valencia revival
Despite turmoil La Liga side could spring a trap, warns Chelsea boss
Frank Lampard at a training session at Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham, London on Monday, before their Champions League clash with Valencia on Tuesday. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA
Champions League Group H: Chelsea v Valencia
Kick-off: 8pm. Venue: Stamford Bridge. On TV: Virgin Media One, BT Sport 3.
The situation feels almost too perfect for Chelsea. There is a buzz around the place after the 5-2 victory over Wolves on Saturday, Tammy Abraham is scoring goals for fun and their first game back in the Champions League pitches them against a side whose preparations could hardly have been more chaotic.
Everything suggests that Valencia are in a state of turmoil before facing Chelsea on Tuesday evening. It is less than a week since Peter Lim, the club’s owner, controversially sacked the respected Marcelino García Toral and replaced him with the former Spain under-21s manager Albert Celades, who received a harsh introduction to coaching at club level when his first game ended in a 5-2 defeat at Barcelona on Saturday night.
We will be ready for a team, even if they have their issues with the media, who will be determined to do well
It was the opposite of a new-manager bounce and, bearing in mind the failure of any Valencia player to appear at Monday’s press conference at Stamford Bridge, there is unhappiness in the camp after Marcelino’s shock dismissal. The team’s effort levels against Chelsea, who will want to start well before difficult trips to Ajax and Lille, will be closely scrutinised.
Yet for all that talk of mutiny stalks Celades, Frank Lampard is wary of being caught cold by a sudden Valencia revival. Chelsea’s manager was part of some strong dressing rooms during his playing days and understands the power of a siege mentality in these situations.
“It doesn’t affect our approach,” Lampard said. “We are going up against a team that have fantastic quality. What I will say is my experience of moments like this – when there is an issue as a collective group against the media or the outside world – generally it makes a group tighter.
“Sometimes it can be a positive as much as a negative on the pitch. I am not going to think too much about it. We will certainly be ready for a team, even if they have their issues with the media, who will be determined to do well. I draw a line on that and focus on what they can do on the pitch.”
Last season Valencia finished fourth in La Liga, beat Barça in the Copa del Rey final and lost to Arsenal in the last four of the Europa League. Asked to identify their threats, Lampard described them as difficult to break down and dangerous on the break before warning that his defenders will need to keep a close eye on Rodrigo and Kevin Gameiro.
The higher level of player in the Champions League and different style of game can sometimes surprise you
Lampard anticipates an awkward test for his inexperienced side. He might not have managed at this level before but he made 102 appearances in the Champions League for Chelsea, the first of which came against Sparta Prague in September 2003, and captained them when they beat Bayern Munich in the final in 2012. He knows the competition as well as anyone and will warn his young players to expect the worst if they drop their guard against Europe’s elite.
“It is certainly worth a word or two because it is different in its nature,” Lampard said. “I would say the main thing that I noticed as a player was that your concentration level has to be absolutely spot-on. The higher level of player in the Champions League and different style of game can sometimes surprise you. The team that travel for this game can hurt you in one second when you feel like you are controlling the game.”
The question for Lampard is whether to stick with the 3-4-2-1 system that caught Wolves by surprise or switch to a more open 4-2-3-1. While Chelsea have been exciting to watch this season, they have been unbalanced without the ball and are yet to keep a clean sheet. The onus is on them to attack but it might be a risk for Lampard to throw caution to the wind when his most experienced centre-back, Antonio Rüdiger, is out with a groin injury and N’Golo Kanté will be missing in midfield for the fourth consecutive game.
Any team would be weaker without Kanté’s drive, and Lampard will not have forgotten how Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic struggled to protect Chelsea’s back four in the 2-2 home draw with Sheffield United last month, which means that Kurt Zouma could start alongside Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori.
Not that Lampard views the Champions League as work experience for his youngsters. He is targeting qualification from a tight group and it is already clear why he has so much faith in Chelsea’s talented academy graduates. Tomori has impressed, Mason Mount has been superb in midfield and Abraham has seven goals in his last three games after his hat-trick against Wolves.
All that youthful brio could take Chelsea far. First, however, they have to listen to Lampard’s advice and avoid falling into Valencia’s trap. – Guardian