Wednesday 21st September @ The Mestalla
A calamity moment from Solamon Kalou meant that Chelsea had to settle for just a point against Valencia last night.
Robert Saldado converted an 87th minute penalty to level the scores at 1-1 after Kalou hand inexplicably handled a corner from the right-hand side.
Frank Lampard scored the opener for the visitors on his return to the start line-up having found himself on the bench in recent matches.
The result leaves Chelsea top of Group E with 4 points, whilst Bayer Leverkusen are now second following their 2-0 victory over Genk in Germany.
Andre Villas-Boas made 3 changes from the side that dispatched of Swansea at the weekend.
David Luiz replaced Branislav Ivanovic alongside John Terry in central defence. Lampard came in for Raul Meireles in midfield and Florent Malouda started on the left of attack ahead of Nicolas Anelka.
Valencia welcomed back captain David Albelda and played a 4-2-3-1 formation as expected.
But the home side started nervously, giving the ball away on numerous occasions but Chelsea were unable to capitalise.
Inside 3 minutes the ball was gifted to Fernando Torres whose first touch was heavy as he approached the box before colliding with a Valencia defender. The keeper easily collected the loose ball but replays suggested the striker had a claim for a penalty.
Malouda was next to pounce on a loose pass but his attempted through ball to Ramires was cleared for a corner.
Having survived those early scares, Valencia began to create their own opportunities. The creative Sergio Canales, on loan from Real Madrid, was the catalyst for most attacks but Petr Cech was never really troubled.
Chelsea then had a decent counter-attack of themselves as Luiz set-up Ramires who was galloping towards goal. The Brazilian’s attempted run between 2 defenders was cynically halted by Victor Ruiz who was booked for the challenge.
The challenge could have warranted a red card given that Ramires had the momentum as he ran in on goal but the defender got away with it.
The subsequent free-kick was struck too close to the keeper by Lampard as neither side were able to make the breakthrough.
With half time approaching, there was some good football on display from both sides but the deadlock was yet to be broken.
Diego Alves, in the Valencia goal, proved to play a huge part in keeping his team in the match during the start of the second period.
Jose Bosingwa made a good run down the right before swinging in a vicious cross that Torres managed to get on the end of and just when it seemed the ball was destined for the net, Alves clawed it out in spectacular fashion.
Moments later, Lampard expertly picked out the run of Ramires who found himself one on one with the keeper. Having scored 2 goals last weekend, you would be forgiven for expecting the dynamic midfielder to have converted here too but Alves stood firm to deny him.
Valencia were on the ropes and could have been 3-0 down had it not been for Alves again. This time it was Torres who ran confidently at the home defence before a good exchange with the advanced Lampard found him inside the box with the keeper to beat.
The Spaniard took one touch on his thigh to control before aiming the ball towards the left hand corner but Alves saved once more, this time with his feet.
The enslaught continued as another Chelsea attack almost resulted in an own goal by Victor Ruiz but Alves intervened on the line.
But the pressure finally paid off on 56 minutes and typically it was the under-fire Lampard with the goal. Super Frank has come under intense criticism in recent weeks following some below-par displays and his relegation to the bench but he made no mistake as he gave Chelsea a deserved lead.
Malouda, who endured a shocking first half, was the creator as he picked the ball up on the right wing, feigned to go inside before turning outside and cutting the ball across goal.
Lampard was waiting and didn’t even take a touch as he firmly placed a low shot into the corner of the net with goal keeper Alves left with no chance.
The half-empty Mestalla was silenced but that goal served to kick Valencia into a greater urgency to respond.
Pablo arrowed a cross that narrowly went over Cech’s bar and when the Chelsea keeper misjudged a run out of his goal, Terry was there to cover as Soldado wasted the chance.
Suddenly the tides had turned and it was the away side on the back foot. Cech saved well from Fegholi before Piatti shot wide when he should have done better.
With only 15 minutes remaining, Chelsea wasted a great opportunity to wrap up the victory as Lampard teed Malouda inside the Valencia box but the Frenchman’s shot on goal was weak and saved comfortably by Alves.
Cech then pulled off his best save so far as Jonas struck well from outside the box. The Czech international done extremely well to tip the ball around the post.
But he was not to get the clean sheet he deserved as another Valencia corner from the right lead to a penalty. Kalou had only been only a matter of minutes and he was the man at fault as he gifted the home side the chance of an equaliser.
Soldado stepped up and sent Cech the wrong way before grabbing the ball in the hope of finding another goal in injury time.
But the best chance of a winner came at the other end where Nicolas Anelka, on for Torres, found himself in front of goal only 6 yards out but hit it straight at the fortunate keeper.
It was not to be for AVB’s side as both sides had to settle for a point at the final whistle.
Juan Mata and Ashley Cole found themselves booked as they made their way off the pitch after Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli awarded Chelsea a free kick then ended the game before they had the chance to take it.
It capped a frustrating end to an encouraging away performance from The Blues. After Lampard had scored the opener it seemed we were well capable of protecting the lead and possibly doubling it.
But the substitutions made by AVB seemed to influence the side in a negative manner as the impressive Ramires, Lampard and Torres were all withdrawn.
On a personal note I had hoped that the days of a Chelsea side finishing a match with Mikel, Malouda and Kalou in the team were over.
Now don’t get me wrong, I would never boo a current Chelsea player at all. You cannot achieve anything from doing that.
But having improved our squad significantly in the summer, it is beyond me why these particular 3 players continue to play for the club?
This is a little harsh on Mikel, I admit. Although his passing and shooting quality is certainly questionable, he can do a job in protecting the back four when necessary.
Malouda is a frustrating player because he has proven that he can play at the top level, but doesn’t show it often enough anymore.
As for Kalou? For me, he’s spent too long underachieving and should no longer be representing the football club.
His attitude last night was nothing short of a disgrace; he contributed nothing to the team and ultimately cost us 2 points with his ridiculous hand ball late in the game.
But as much I understand it is important to keep the fitness and confidence high amongst the squad, the results are what really matter. And too much tinkering with a winning side may cost us dearly in future games if it continues.
I would much prefer to see the likes of Romeu, McEachran, Sturridge and Lukaku wearing the blue shirt of Chelsea in these matches than those players that I’ve mentioned.
Hopefully AVB will see that too, and he can continue the great job he’s started at the club.
Come on Chels!
Cech (c); Bosingwa, Terry, Luiz, Cole; Mikel, Lampard (Kalou 82), Ramires (Meireles 65); Mata, Torres (Anelka 72), Malouda
Man of the Match: Lampard
Frank wasn’t in unstoppable form yesterday but he looked more like his old self with better use of the ball in midfield and a well-taken goal to cap an impressive, morale-boosting performance.