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 Chelsea manager made a strange substitution which not only meant Lampard, again, did not complete the 90 minutes, but also led to Chelsea throwing away victory. With Valencia putting Chelsea under pressure, Villas-Boas withdrew Lampard with seven minutes remaining and replaced him with the striker Salomon Kalou. This might have made sense if the idea was to leave Kalou up front, using his pace as an outlet, but the Ivorian went on the right of a five-man midfield, with Nicolas Anelka being left in attack.
Within two minutes of coming on Kalou conceded possession which led to a corner. When it came over he inexplicably handled, giving away a penalty. Roberto Soldado converted and Chelsea were left one point clear of Bayer Leverkusen – who beat Genk last night – in Group E, rather than three.
Villas-Boas explained that he had brought on Kalou as he wanted to prevent Valencia advancing on their left flank where they had been causing problems. "We are an attacking team, it seemed a natural choice," he said. He added the goal had not come from that flank, and he did not blame Kalou as "these things happen in football". However, he did not explain why he chose Kalou instead of Branislav Ivanovic, nor why Lampard was withdrawn instead of Juan Mata or Florent Malouda, both of whom had been less influential.
Villas-Boas added: "When you are so near a win it leaves you with strange feeling but we will take a draw, we are in a good position in the group." Of Lampard, he said: "It was a good display from a top player, one of the best in the squad. The goal comes at a good time for Frank. He has been scoring all his life and his abilities were never in doubt."
The player himself, who has been allowed a full match by Villas-Boas or Fabio Capello only once in the last eight opportunities, said: "I always want to play, that's a given. I've been like that throughout my career. I've had knocks before in my career. It makes me worker harder to come back." He added: "I love playing for this club. I'm proud of playing for Chelsea."
While Chelsea's preparation was interrupted by a delayed flight, Unai Emery took his Valencia team to the beach for training and lunch. The opening stages suggested they were still on the sunloungers mentally. David Albelda, the captain and a veteran of Valencia's 2004 La Liga title under Rafael Benitez, gifted the ball to Torres in the third minute and though French international Adil Rami got back to challenge, he appeared to bring Torres down. However, no Chelsea player, not even Torres, appealed. Eight minutes later Ramires burst through an unguarded central midfield and was hauled back by Victor Ruiz. The defender was booked but Lampard's low free-kick did not unduly test goalkeeper Diego Alves.
This promising start was misleading for Valencia settled and Chelsea subsequently moved the ball too slowly in midfield to penetrate their defence. Not that the Spanish team were leaving much space to exploit; they seemed happy to sit deep and counter-attack. Their first chance came after 24 minutes when the increasingly influential Sergio Canales released Jordi Alba whose cross was put into the side-netting by Pablo Hernandez. In injury-time Hernandez was more accurate with a snap shot on the turn but Petr Cech was alert to the danger.
The first half had been very tight but the second one opened with a flurry of chances culminating in Lampard breaking the deadlock. Torres had begun it badly, failing to get away from the more stocky Rami, but was then denied twice by fine saves from Alves. The goalkeeper went full stretch to turn away his powerful header from Jose Bosingwa's cross then reacted with his knee to block Torres's shot following a neat exchange with Lampard. Ramires had an even better chance, but shot straight at Alves after being sent clear by Lampard. The goalkeeper even had to save from team-mate Ruiz after he deflected a Lampard corner goalwards.
In this crazy five minutes Valencia also had chances: a defensive touch just prevented Soldado heading in a cross on the counter-attack, then Jérémy Mathieu brought Cech into play from 20 yards.
It seemed someone had to score and, almost inevitably, it was Lampard who did so. Malouda went to the byline on the right and when he cut the ball back, Lampard, as he has so often, scored first time. It was his 26th goal in 96 European appearances, but only his second of the season following a penalty against Norwich last month. His team-mates went as one to hug him, and he then saluted the Chelsea fans perched high in the steepling stands of this atmospheric stadium. He made no gesture towards the bench.
Emery made a raft of changes in an attempt to regain parity and his three young substitutes, the Argentine Pablo Piatti, the Frenchman Sofiane Feghouli, and the Brazilian Jonas, made a difference, all bringing saves out of Cech. The last of these brought the corner from which Kalou made his inexplicable error. After the Ivorian was booked Soldado sent Cech the wrong way from the spot.
Chelsea could still have won the game but as injury time approached Alves made a final excellent save, denying Anelka with his foot. Chelsea angrily accosted the referee at the final whistle and Ashley Cole and Mata were booked. Their frustration reflected the fact that, while a point here is a good result, it should have been three.
Man of the match Alves.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee N Rizzoli (It).
Attendance 23,593.Reuse content