Monday 18 December 2017

Soldado holds nerve as Blues pay the penalty

Frank Lampard celebrates with his Chelsea team-mates Fernando Torres and
Juan Mata (L) after opening the scoring in last night's Champions League clash
Frank Lampard celebrates with his Chelsea team-mates Fernando Torres and Juan Mata (L) after opening the scoring in last night's Champions League clash

Valencia 1, Chelsea 1, Jason Burt

Andre Villas-Boas had lauded Frank Lampard's worth, his magnificence even, despite having not used him from the start of three of Chelsea's last four matches, but there was a rich dividend last night for both manager and 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, even if they were pegged back by a late penalty when it appeared victory was theirs.

This was, nevertheless, a vindication for Villas-Boas and, even if Lampard may regard this as a point made by him, as well as a point won for Chelsea, the manager has the right to marshal his resources as he sets about stamping his authority on the club he joined so recently. This is fast becoming his team, his squad and, most definitely, his way.


For a contest that bounced from end to end, this was also a strangely cagey encounter in an opening period in which Fernando Torres could have -- should have -- scored and, if not, could have -- should have -- had a penalty.

Twice Valencia cheaply surrendered possession with the veteran David Albelda passing the ball straight to Torres. He collected, but his first touch was woefully heavy. Even so, when Adil Rami barged into him inside the area he could well have been punished.

Soon after, the otherwise impressive Ever Banega delivered straight to Florent Malouda before he was crowded out and the ball deflected narrowly wide for a corner. Then Ramires forced his way to the edge of the penalty area before he was hauled down.

Was Rami preventing a goal-scoring opportunity? The referee decided to award a free-kick and Lampard's low effort was scrambled away by goalkeeper Diego Alves.

Villas-Boas is installing a sharpness to the Chelsea squad, rotating and changing players who were once regarded, by Jose Mourinho, as "untouchable". No longer. The key arrival, of course, has been Juan Mata, signed from Valencia for £27m and handed the challenge of becoming Chelsea's creative fount.

It is a role he has relished so far and the reaction to his return to the club he left a few short weeks ago showed how fondly he is remembered here.

Valencia, coached by Unai Emery, a friend of Villas-Boas and a kindred spirit also, are resurgent despite another summer of wholesale changes, and held Barca at the Mestalla last week. The same outfield 10 started last night and they were hesitant early on.

Still they rallied, sensing Chelsea's vulnerability down the right with Jose Bosingwa often caught out too far forward and David Luiz rash in the challenge. From one such counter, by the quicksilver Jordi Alba, the ball was delivered in to the near post for Pablo Hernandez to steer his shot into the side-netting.

A burst by Bosingwa, inside, offered Torres the chance to out-sprint Rami.

He could not do so and the defender easily steered the ball to safety but, then, moments later Bosinwga crossed deep and Torres met it with a header which was superbly turned away by Alves. Stung into action, Valencia immediately broke, with Pablo chipping the ball up for Roberto Soldado who, somehow, completely missed it with his head when he had a clear goal to aim at.

More chances came. This time Ramires was through, but his shot lacked conviction and Alves blocked. Then Lampard and Torres exchanged passes and the latter's point-blank shot was also turned away by the now inspired Alves, who clawed away Victor Ruiz's goalbound deflection from the corner.

Something had to give -- and it did. Malouda found space down the right and his cross eventually landed at the feet of Lampard. He had time and space -- and drove his low shot beyond Alves. His celebration was simply to raise his arms in triumph. As well he might.

Now behind, Valencia attacked. Petr Cech had to rush from goal to block and suddenly his defenders were pushed back around him and there was panic as the 'keeper again hurtled off his line in misjudgment, only for John Terry to hack clear. As they pushed, substitute Pablo Piatti was picked out, only for his shot to be forced over.

Chelsea were pinned back, with Villas-Boas ringing the changes. But the pressure told. From that corner substitute Salomon Kalou was penalised for handball, and Soldado calmly stroked home the penalty to gain an undeserved draw. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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