The newspaper reports
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Valencia merited a 1-1 draw that diminished the significance of the night for Chelsea and, in particular, for one senior figure. Frank Lampard had scored the opener, as if to prove his value despite the advancing years. Another old hand, the substitute Nicolas Anelka, might have restored Chelsea’s advantage but was denied by a block from Diego Alves. It had been a tense occasion, with Ashley Cole cautioned for an incident that followed the full-time whistle.”
The Daily Telegraph, Jason Burt: “Andre Villas-Boas had lauded Frank Lampard’s worth, his magnificence even, having not used him from the start of three of Chelsea’s last four matches but there was a rich dividend on Wednesday night for the manager and for the player. Lampard scored his 20th Champions League goal in his 78th appearance in the competition that has become a Holy Grail for him and for Chelsea.”
The Independent, Glenn Moore: “Twenty-four hours after one footballer reacted to being dropped by refusing to play, another provided the perfect response to his recent omission. Frank Lampard, whose future had become as big and as sensitive an issue at Stamford Bridge as Fernando Torres’s finishing, marked his return to the starting XI with a typically well-taken goal. His 56th-minute strike looked to have earned Chelsea a second successive Champions League group stage win, but there was a twist in the tale which soured the night for Andre Villas-Boas.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “A Valencia penalty in the dying minutes of the game denied Chelsea a third win out of three visits to the Mestalla. Frank Lampard, with his 20th Champions League goal, had given the Blues a second-half lead deserved on chances created. After a tight first half of few opportunities created, both keepers put in star performances in the second half, Valencia’s Diego Alves in particular with a strong claim to be man of the match. Fernando Torres was denied with one special stop and after the home team had levelled, Nicolas Anelka could have won it for the Blues but for the keeper’s good form.”
Valencia is the background to one of Hollywood’s most memorable portrayals of the power of illusion.
Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar is mortally wounded by an arrow, the morale of his army has been sapped and the besieged city is on the brink of defeat. But morning sees the corpse of Charlton Heston, (for it is he) strapped rigid in the saddle apparently leading his joyous troops out of through the city walls to engage once more the Moorish army of Ben Yusuf of the Almoravides. Believing they are now confronted by a ghost, terror spreads through the enemy ranks as the narrator intones the immortal lines:
“And thus the Cid rode out of the gates of history into legend.”
And today on this blog Valencia will once again figure at the heart of another great illusion, as I pretend to have been alive in the Mestalla Stadium, while in truth I watched the match prone and corpse-like on my sofa. You dear reader, will recoil Yusuf-like in terror at the prospect of another of my idiosyncratic meanderings.
But as in the original film, there is at least the fragrant Sophia Loren to lift the spirits (she’s the one without the beard).
Playing Valencia in European competition is proper football. They first came to my notice as a teenager back in 1978-79 when they beat Arsenal on penalties in the Cup Winners’ Cup. Mario Kempes, a man who defined big hair at a time when big hair could be very big, was their star player, though he did miss in the shoot-out. He was part of that iconic Argentinian World Cup winning team from which Ardiles and Ricky Villa came to Spurs and were managed by Cesar Menotti, a man who redefined chain smoking when a lot of people thought they knew what chain smoking was. None of them came to Chelsea. It was the end of the 70s. I think we all understand what I mean and can move on.
Our recent encounters back in 2007 were exciting, tight games with Essien’s last minute winner being the pick of the four. We were the first English team to beat them on home soil. By then they were old hands in the matter of Champions League heartbreak. I well remember the disappointment they suffered with the two defeats in successive finals, one of those on penalties. The crew-cut hair and tortured look of manager Hector Cuper, the haunted eyes of the Basque, Mendieta, the quality of the Pelligrini/Ayala defensive partnership are among my memories of a great team. (And they beat Leeds, which is never a bad thing.) Unfortunately these relatively successful years went hand in hand with massive debt and it all unwound badly for them. But not before a little tubby bespectacled fellow did a decent stint in the dugout, including a league title or two.
But despite the financial pressures they have continued to produce good teams built on young, exciting players. David Villa, David Silva and now our own Juan Mata, who returns only months after leaving, being among those they’ve sold on to stay afloat.
This season, Valencia have won three of their first five league games and shared a two-all draw with Barcelona. By all accounts they really should have taken all three points against Genk in the first group game. So there could be no illusion about the task awaiting Chelsea.
And with such a potentially exciting game in prospect it was irritating from a Chelsea fan’s point of view that the lead up to the game was coloured by the decision of the tabloid rat pack to get hold of the new boy, shove his head down the bog and flush it, just to show who’s boss and because they perceive him to be an easy wind up.
I don’t doubt that Lampard is not best pleased at being benched. But he’s a bright fellow. I’m sure he recognises that he has yet to regain his old form and is probably working on how best to remodel his game if he feels that it is necessary. AVB is no mug and he’s not going to discard someone of Lampard’s qualities with a season of potentially fifty plus games ahead.
Ultimately it’s a story that will unfold of itself and the negative agenda-setting we’ve seen this week is just self serving nonsense from a group who seem to wallow in endless self-congratulation at what they perceive to be their mastery of the mind-fuck.
But unlike the unfortunate Ben Yusuf and his cohorts, we have seen through the deception and will not buckle in the face of their illusory tripe.
And in the end Lampard did play in this one.
The full team was Cech, Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Mata, Ramires, Lampard, Malouda, Torres in what was a 4-1-4-1 formation if I read it right.
The subs were Turnbull, Ivanovic, Romeu, Drogba, Meireles, Kalou, Anelka.
We started well and had a very bright 10 minutes, taking advantage of a nervous Valencia. When Torres stole the ball in the middle of Valencia’s half and drove into the area after three minutes, Rami careened into him with a shoulder and why the referee didn’t point to the spot is a conundrum with which we are all too familiar.
Late on Rami’s defensive partner Ruiz clumsily charged into the back of Malouda and yet again nothing doing. Apart from a yellow for Malouda seconds later when a Valencia player made the most of an innocuous trip as our French wizard lay prone in the area. That decision allied to blowing the final whistle just as Chelsea were about to take a free-kick, which would have put the ball in Valencia’s box, probably contributed to some displays of bad temper from a few like Cole, Mata and Mikel as they left the field. Cole and Mata were booked.
A rather disappointing conclusion, from Mister Rizzoli, to a match he’d handled well.
So after a couple of early chances for the Blues, the Spanish side settled and the most of the first half was a cagey, but I thought quite compelling game. The team selection had suggested we might be conservative and so it proved. Going forward we didn’t commit numbers and rarely put men beyond Torres, who seemed frustrated by the constant manhandling of Valencia’s defenders.
For their part Valencia pressed high up the pitch and when in possession were adept at drifting into the space around Mikel and behind the midfield four.
Apparently, they had been very successful down the left against Barcelona and that was their strong point throughout this game. They constantly overloaded against Mata and Bosingwa who were left exposed when Ramires was either caught upfield or pressing the ball infield.
In the second half Malouda played on the right but the problem continued. I wondered whether that was a reason for withdrawing Ramires after 66 minutes. Possibly Merieles could sit more and help shore things up as well as use his passing ability to help ball retention and hit players upfield more accurately.
The second half began with a far greater determination from Chelsea. They were getting forward in numbers and created four excellent chances in the first five minutes. The goalkeeper Alves, who is not first choice, made two outstanding saves from Torres, one from Ramires and maybe the best from one of his own players.
But they were rocking and in the 53rd minute clever play down the right by Malouda gave him the space to cut the ball back across the box where Lampard finished calmly with a right footer into the left hand side of the net.
Understandably, we eased back somewhat and despite one or two chances for Los Che, it looked as though we could ride out the game. Anelka replaced Torres after 72 minutes, which was a like for like swap. The Spanish continued to press but didn’t carve out any really clear cut chances. However their movement out wide was stretching us, whereas when we funnelled them inside, we were able to break up the threat.
But here’s the thing. Gradually we started to get penned in. Valencia played a high press forcing Cech to clear long rather than distribute by hand. When we made interceptions or tackles in our third we kept giving the ball back under pressure. There was a 10 minute spell after the 70th minute where we didn’t really get out of our half. It wasn’t an all hands to the pumps situation but rather a gradual accretion of pressure, which with a 1-0 lead to protect is dangerous.
So when Kalou came on for Lampard after 83 minutes, it made sense to me. Kalou would play wide right, leaving Malouda to replace Lampard on the left side of the central two alongside Mereiles, with Mikel continuing to hold. Our right side was getting problematic and I can see how the thinking that Kalou’s fresh legs and ability to run with the ball would force Valencia back down their left side as well as give some impetus to the cover in front of Bosingwa.
I’ve never sat and discussed with a mouse what happens to his best laid plans, but I do know what happens to some of man’s.
Before Kalou could have any real effect, indeed he may have given the ball away once or twice, he had to face a corner after Cech made his only real save of the night, tipping a curling shot around his left hand post. Jumping with a Valencia player he led with his arm, didn’t seem to be watching the ball and was duly penalised as the ball brushed his hand before going over his head.
We give one of those away quite regularly in Europe. Ferreira against Barca and Belletti against Juve spring to mind. Sometimes a guy just can’t catch a break.
He did put Anelka through one on one a few minutes later and we could have nicked the game. But Salomon looked shaken and did very little but make mistakes for the final few minutes.
It was a decent point in the end. However we were up against a goal keeper who was in the zone. Ramires and Anelka had one on ones and you really have to put those away. Given that we were in the Valencia of El Cid, perhaps I should have expected that they would “ghost” in behind our central pairing. But it happened a few times and was somewhat unnerving. Combined with the ability of the Spanish to work the left, there is food for thought when we meet them in the return.
Quite frankly I’d rather this sort of examination now, than a cake walk to the next round. For starters it makes for a more enjoyable, if nerve wracking game. It gets the players on their mettle and gives the coaching staff a decent examination of their strategy and tactics.
It was a proper game of football and coming to Valencia, I expected no less.
Cech did a good night’s work. I was pleased to see him covering the area in behind the back line and coming for the ball over the top. A good performance from Bosingwa. Some very good work going forward and didn’t crack under the pressure from the Valencia left side. Indeed I thought he was more effective than Cole who was decent but subdued. Luiz didn’t make any howlers but kept losing the ball in our half when bringing it out. Terry was steady but like an old telly had trouble with the ghosting.
Mikel was solid and unruffled, though he was prone to dwell once too often. But he did his job. Malouda was bright tonight. Got through some real work. He made the goal. Lampard was steady and took his chance well. He doesn’t dictate the game like he used to but as we saw against Fulham, he is prepared to get into the trenches. Ramires showed how important his pace is going forward, but I wish he’d put away the one on one. If he can improve his finishing then he could get 20 goals a season. Mata was quieter than I expected. Perhaps it was the occasion. But he didn’t hide and there were flashes from him particularly second half.
Torres should have had a goal. He was denied by great goalkeeping. He should also have had a penalty. While he seemed unhappy in the first half he came alive in the early part of the second half. I think he feels it’s coming back to him. I remember reading an interview he gave when at Liverpool, where he talked about what a great defender Carvalho was. He’s a thinker. He is articulate about the game. Efforts to portray him as a moody airhead are very wide of the mark.
Mereiles and Anelka did their bit. As for Salomon. Better now than when it’s all on the line.
So ends another trip to Spain.
When I was young Spain was being gradually opened up by the package tour industry. But I didn’t have the opportunity to go there and so while some experienced the country through sun, sand and sangria, I was still viewing it through the prism of Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning* and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. It gave me an unreal, romanticised feel for a place that no longer exists, if indeed it ever did. Yet somehow, when ever I go there I can’t shake off a sense of the Spain that I only absorbed from books.
I don’t know if it was watching El Cid, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail or perhaps having to read Spenser’s The Faerie Queen at college. But at one time I was wrapped up in a pan European chivalry fest, reading Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and The Song of Roland among others. There is a relic of those days that I noticed only yesterday on my bookshelf. It is a translation of the 15th century chivalric classic Tirant lo Blanc, written by the Valencian knight Joanot Martorell. The original was written in Valencian Catalan. It is mentioned in Don Quixote apparently. I’ve never got around to reading it. But I will leave it there to remind me that Valencia is about more than football and Hollywood.