The London side had to settle for a point in Spain but an encouraging away performance led by the experienced Englishman means there are plenty of positives to take
By Chris Myson
A late handball by substitute Salomon Kalou and the ensuing penalty by Roberto Soldado may have cost Chelsea victory at the Mestalla, but on the whole Andre Villas-Boas has mainly positives to take from his side’s 1-1 draw.
The results at Stamford Bridge since the start of Villas-Boas’ reign have been solid but the foolish late aberration by Kalou did cost the new regime what would have been a first landmark victory over a major power to signify the progress being made at the club.
Despite this, the Portuguese coach’s rebuilding project is very much under way: new signing Juan Mata continues to play a key role, more youth is being introduced to the pitch and there have been marked changes to the Blues’ style of play.
Against Valencia though, it was the experienced core of Chelsea’s team, led by Frank Lampard, a man whose future has been called into doubt after his recent absence from the starting line-up for both club and country, that paved the way towards an accomplished away Champions League performance.
Even at the age of 33, the midfielder will not settle for being a squad rotation player, but unlike Carlos Tevez the previous night he made his point in the best way possible by producing the goods where it mattered for his team.
After a composed first-half display from Lampard, he progressed to a starring role after the break as he firstly released Ramires through on goal with a wonderful pass and then combined superbly with Fernando Torres to give the Spaniard a shooting opportunity from close range.
As it happened, home shot-stopper Diego Alves made two of his four world-class saves on the night to deny the experienced Englishman an assist, but even the in-form goalkeeper could do nothing when Lampard took matters into his own hands with a lovely low finish to put his side ahead after good work down the right from Florent Malouda.
Lampard made more passes than anyone else for the Blues on the night, along with creating more chances and making more interceptions than anyone else on the pitch – it was an influential performance.
Other good displays by Malouda, Petr Cech and Jose Bosingwa made it clear to Villas-Boas that he need not rush his changes to the squad. Chelsea remain an outfit who can get the job done, and while they were put under pressure after taking the lead, on the whole they kept possession impressively and showed maturity in knowing when to attack or get numbers behind the ball.
| LAMPARD'S KEY MATCH STATS
SHOTS ON TARGET
FINAL THIRD PASSES
| PLAYER RATING
|7.5||Reminded all of his capabilties with what should have been an assist after 50 minutes, his great pass over the top to Ramires being squandered, and then a classy finish for the opener having been gifted space.
It was an entertaining night in Spain. The first half may not have produced many goalmouth incidents but much of the play, particularly in midfield and wide areas, was of an impressive standard in front of a lively home crowd.
After the break it was an open contest which Chelsea narrowly had the better of, creating more clear-cut opportunities, including one for substitute Nicolas Anelka which arrived after the scores had been levelled late on and should have been taken.
Valencia more than played their part and ensured the visitors were given a stern examination in a match between two evenly matched sides who, if Bayer Leverkusen can be dealt with, should progress from Group E.
Villas-Boas was understandably frustrated after the match, but when he reviews the 90 minutes he will be pleased and quietly confident that results in the big games will follow if performance levels remain the same.
For Lampard, he may not have the legs he once did and perhaps the days of lung-busting box-to-box runs and 20-goal seasons being the norm are now at an end.
But he remains a player who can make a key contribution, using his experience to know when to sit or push forward, creating chances and popping up with priceless goals like he did at the Mestalla – one thing you do not lose is the instinctive ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
Post-match, he said sitting on the bench or suffering setbacks simply makes him all the more determined to work harder and succeed – something his manager must be delighted to hear.
With Lampard and Chelsea’s other stalwarts - players who have been over the course and proven themselves over many years - still producing when it matters, Villas-Boas has more time to establish his methods at the club.
All that should mean the Blues remain well positioned and at least in contention before the chase for trophies on all fronts really begins in earnest in the New Year.