Valencia deliver a harsh lesson to Lampard’s youthful Chelsea
Rodrigo opens the scoring before Barkley’s crucial penalty miss
Rodrigo Moreno scores Valencia’s winner against Chelsea. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty
Chelsea 0 Valencia 1
It was a night when Frank Lampard’s young players found out that no competition is as unforgiving as the Champions League. It was a night of missed opportunities and when it was over Chelsea were left wondering how they had failed to take at least a point from a tight game.
The frustration for Lampard is that he had warned his team not to place too much stock in Valencia’s apparent state of utter turmoil. The Spaniards were wily opponents throughout and while they were fortunate to hold on to their 1-0 lead after Ross Barkley skied a late penalty, their combative display means Chelsea are already under huge pressure in Group H.
The intrigue at the start was whether Valencia’s players were going to down tools in protest at the decision by Peter Lim, the club’s owner, to sack the highly regarded manager, Marcelino García Toral, last week. They have been in open revolt ever since Marcelino’s firing, with their unhappiness at one of the more baffling managerial changes in recent memory extended to a refusal to speak to the media on Monday night, and it seemed to fit the narrative when Chelsea’s energy pinned the visitors back during the early stages.
There was plenty to admire about the start from Lampard’s young side. Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho were winning the 50-50 challenges in midfield, Willian’s direct running was on the right and an opening goal beckoned when César Azpilicueta tore past José Gaya, Valencia’s left-back, and found Tammy Abraham, only for Jasper Cillessen to deny the Chelsea striker with a brave save.
At that stage it was difficult not to assume that Valencia’s second game under Albert Celades was going to be just as miserable as the first, that 5-2 humbling at Barcelona last weekend, but it soon became clear why Lampard had warned his players not to underestimate the side that finished fourth in La Liga last season. Chelsea’s flow was interrupted when Mason Mount, wincing following a heavy foul from Francis Coquelin, limped off in the 16th minute and there were moments when Valencia’s neat passing patterns made the team in blue pine for N’Golo Kanté’s ball-winning qualities.
An air of vulnerability always hangs over Chelsea when Kanté is not screening the defence and there were some uncomfortable moments as the half wore on. Daniel Parejo’s influence was growing in midfield and Valencia spied an opportunity to take the lead when Kévin Gameiro beat the offside trap, only for Fikayo Tomori to sprint back and rob the French striker. Rodrigo also might have done better than hit Gameiro with a shot from the edge of the area. Yet despite a nagging sense that the 3-4-2-1 which worked so well in the win at Wolves on Saturday did not quite suit Chelsea when they were confronted by a deep and organised defence, they remained the more dangerous side in the final third. Kovacic’s lovely ball over the top deserved better than a hurried finish from Willian, who would also draw a sharp stop from Cillessen with a sharp drive just before the break.
They went in goalless, though, and the prospect of Valencia rolling over had long since faded. Chelsea, for all their commendable endeavour, needed to summon greater poise and invention. It was turning into a difficult night for Abraham, who was getting little change out of the gnarled duo of Ezequiel Garay and Gabriel Paulista in Valencia’s back four, and Lampard must have wanted to see more incision from Pedro, who was struggling to make an impression after replacing Mount.
The problem for Chelsea was that much of their width was being provided by Azpilicueta, a player more at home on the right of a back three than at right wing-back. Errors crept into their play and they there was not much for Valencia to worry about beyond a free-kick from Marcos Alonso, whose bending low effort was tipped wide by Cillessen.
It had become a scrappy, broken game and it was disappointing that Valencia were failing to capitalise when space appeared on the counterattack. They rarely looked like exploiting the absence of Antonio Rüdiger in Chelsea’s back three.
But Valencia took the lead in the 74th-minute when Rodrigo turned home a free-kick from Daniel Parejo.
Chelsea won a penalty when Daniel Wass handled Tomori’s header. Cuneyt Cakir pointed to the spot after consulting VAR. Yet Barkley, following an argument with Willian over who should take it, fired over the bar. - Guardian