Champions League review: Valencia 1 – 2 Chelsea (Chelsea win 3 – 2 on agg.)

Match reports

The Guardian, Michael Walker: “What happens next at Chelsea is everybody’s guess but if it is change at the top then it will have to be justified and perhaps put on hold. Michael Essien’s last-minute intervention here takes Chelsea to a third European Cup semi-final in four years and for the second time under Jose Mourinho it is almost certain to be against Liverpool.”

Daily Telegraph, John Ley: “Before last night, Valencia had played 43 European games since January 2000 in this most imposing of settings – and had lost only four. Interestingly, two of those defeats were under former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri. And in 11 previous meetings here against English opposition, they had never been beaten.”

The Times, Matt Dickinson: “Valencia do not make a habit of losing to anyone at the Mestalla but they succumbed to a goal scored by Michael Essien in time added on for stoppages as José Mourinho’s team, once again, proved that they have an indomitable spirit forged by their charismatic, confrontational manager.”

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “This is the Chelsea team that just refuses to go quietly, the blue machine that is harvesting the reputations of Europe’s greatest clubs. When they come to write the history of the Roman Abramovich years then this night at the Mestalla Stadium, and Michael Essien’s 90th-minute winner, will figure large. It was just a shame the Russian owner was not here to see it.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Neil Barnett: “You can’t put this team down. Four trophies is still a possibility. Keep the faith.”

The good

  • Hands up. Who doubted we could win at half-time? It did cross my mind that our lack of creativity might cost us. Pessimism is a trait many fans possess, but I should have trusted Jose Mourinho to alter the whole face of the game at half-time as he has done on many occasions previously. The team spirit he’s instilled at the club and the never-say-die attitude is remarkable.
  • The second half was one of the most dominant I’ve seen in a European away game in many a long year. Did Petr Cech actually do anything in those 45 minutes? Valencia were all over the place at times – unforced errors left, right and centre. Their outstanding home record – unbeaten in 11 previous Champions League meetings against English opposition – makes tonight’s victory all the more incredible.
  • Joe Cole. Looks far from fit, but made such a difference. Oh how we’ve missed him. His introduction and a tactical switch by Mourinho at half-time – to a 4-3-3 formation – changed this game. A tactical masterclass.
  • Didier Drogba. Easily the world’s most complete striker. Even when he doesn’t score his impact on games is nevertheless considerable. 30 goals and counting. Sir Bobby Robson’s Player of the Year, and mine too.
  • Michael Essien. “Essien is a special player,” said Mourinho after the game. “He can run forever. He can play a game every day, he’s a superb athlete.” Considering this was his first game back from injury, and the fact that he was booked early on (he will miss the first leg of the semi-final), his performance was exceptional. And what a goal, the 25th we’ve scored in the last 10 minutes of games this season. A great build up involving Joe Cole and clever pass by Andriy Shevchenko (whose Champions League tally is now 46) too.
  • John Obi Mikel. All the hype was true. It’s hard to believe he’s only 19 years old. His future is bright, very, very bright indeed.
  • Michael Ballack. A contentious choice no doubt. Some neat tackles, headers and passes. He’s getting there. He seems to enjoy these European nights.
  • Ashley Cole had a good game, some decent crosses and forward runs, and solid defending.
  • Mourinho’s reaction during John Terry and Essien’s post-game interview live on ITV 4. Priceless.
  • Santiago Canizares’ two Cechlike saves. What a shame he couldn’t pull off a third.

The bad

  • The first half. We dominated possession but were pretty poor, tame in fact, very little creativity in front of goal. Valencia seemed to be playing the perfect game: absorbing all our pressure and hitting us on the break with some great passing and movement. Yet again it took going a goal down and a half-time bollocking from Mourinho before the players showed their best form. My nerves can’t take much more.
  • The majority of Frank Lampard’s dead ball deliveries were really poor. Sort it out, Frank.
  • Roberto Ayala. A great defender, but also one of the dirtiest players on the planet. Got away with murder before picking up a much deserved yellow card.
  • Roman Abramovich wasn’t even in Spain to see Mourinho pull off yet another minor miracle, giving rise to more speculation that he will sack him in the summer. I have a horrible feeling about all this.

Man of the Match

A difficult one to call. Didier Drogba? Michael Essien? John Obi Mikel? Even Joe Cole, just for the impact he had on the game. I’m going to give it to John Obi Mikel for another composed performance.

Final thoughts

The dream is still alive.

It’s likely that we’ll meet Liverpool, who are 3-0 up against PSV Eindhoven going into tomorrow’s second leg at Anfield, in the semi-finals. Mourinho will relish the chance to avenge their lucky semi-final win in 2005.

With Manchester United crushing Roma tonight, the prospect of fighting the Red Devils for three trophies – FA Cup, Premiership and Champions League – grows ever nearer.

What a season.

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