The second half of Chelsea v Valencia – Frank Lampard’s first Champions League game as manager – is about to begin, with the match goalless.
While goalkeeper Kepa is attended to be one of the trainers, substitute Ross Barkley begins his preparations to come on, to try to snatch the goal that would set the Blues off in pursuit of another group stage qualification.
Then, disaster strikes. In the 75th minute, just after Lampard had swapped defender Kurt Zouma for attacker Olivier Giroud in a bold (and possibly reckless) move, Valencia scored.
Rodrigo broke free, met a looped free kick and flicked it into the roof of the Chelsea net.
Moments later, Barkley came on for Mateo Kovacic, and almost immediately we were in the middle of a VAR episode, with Chelsea frantically claiming for handball in the Valencia box. After running to the side of the pitch to look at a screen himself, Turkish ref Cuneyt Cakir pointed to the spot.
Barkley stepped up and took the – inevitably – delayed kick as the Valencia players encroached, delayed and tried to distract the midfielder. Maybe it worked. The spot kick struck the crossbar and sailed high into the Matthew Harding stand.
“Ross is the penalty taker,” insisted Lamps afterwards. “He’s scored a couple in pre-season and he’s been the taker whenever he’s started or come on in games. I don’t know what the conversation was but Willian and Jorginho were the penalty takers from the start, and Ross was once he came on.”
And so it remained 1-0 to the visitors, who played out the remaining few moments to notch an impressive away win.
“We created enough good chances, had a penalty and then conceded from one shot on target,” said Lampard in summing the game up. “It’s a harsh lesson of Champions League football because we played pretty well but lost.
“The good news is we’ve got five more games left in the group, but we should have got more tonight.”
Worse, with the next home game looming against Liverpool at the weekend, Mason Mount got a bad ankle knock following a foul by Francis Coquelin, which saw the Valencia midfielder booked. He strulled on for a few moments, but had to come off for treatment in the 15th minute… replaced by Pedro.
All in all, a disappointing night for Blues fans who are so used to early Champions League success at the Bridge, but will now have to hope for an upturn in fortunes in two weeks’ time, when they travel to Lille.