Nearly won, nearly lost

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Chelsea lost at the Bridge, above, in the first Champions League game against Valencia… and nearly repeated the trick in Spain

 

We nearly won it, we nearly lost it. Frank Lampard’s verdict on a topsy-turvy game of knackering end-to-end football and squandered chances in the Champions League at Valencia which leaves the Blues’ fate in their own hands.

If Chelsea can defeat Lille at the Bridge in two weeks’ time, on December 10, then all will be forgotten.

Well, nearly all. This was an evening of non-stop drama and excitement, but for all the wrong reasons as the Blues’ wide-open defence allowed the Spanish side to mount attack after attack and, seemingly, carve Chelsea open at will.

“You’re never happy when you don’t win,” said Cesar Azpilicueta, the captain, at the end, reflecting on a match which saw him revert to his old position of left back, to allow Reece James to play on the right, with Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen alongside him in the centre.

The collective wisdom is that it was probably too soon to bring Christensen back after an injury lay-off, especially as Fikayo Tomori is on such a good run of form.

Add to that the continued inconsistences of Kepa between the sticks (although he did, to be fair, make a magnificent penalty save with his fingertips), and you have an awful lot for Lampard and Jody Morris to sit and analyse as the Blues prepare to welcome West Ham to Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon.

Tomori will start that game, and Tammy Abraham, who limped off with a hip injury having landed awkwardly on an opponent’s boot, is likely to make way for either Michy Batshuayi or Olivier Giroud (again an unused sub).

Mateo Kovacic had an excellent game, although there were a few wayward passes as well. He scored his first goal in what seems a lifetime for Chelsea.

At times the game degenerated into a Spanish diving festival, with the Valencia players making a meal of almost anything in a blatant attempt to persuade the ref to show a few yellows, while theirĀ coach Albert Celades, a dead ringer for a young Roman Abramovich, must have been on the line to Samaritans at halftime, having seen his side waste so many open goals.

In the second half, Lampard switched formation from four to three at the back, with Azpilicueta switching to the right when Emerson came on as left back, but it still meant an orgy of chances went abegging, mainly for the Spanish side.

Christian Pulisic added yet another to his tally after one of the longest drawn out VAR delays we’ve yet seen, confirming that he had bundled the ball over the line legitimately.

But what to do about Kepa? His throw-outs often missed the mark, his positioning is regularly suspect, his dribbling as opponents approach him in the area means everyone has an attack of nerves, and the plain fact is that he is simply not worth that ‘world’s most expensive keeper’ tag. Even if he did save a pen.

He seemed to be at fault for Valencia’s equaliser – a fluky long cross that sailed over his head, hit the far post and bounced into the net. He didn’t even stretch for it, judging it was likely to fly away to safety.

If he could, Lampard would cheerfully swap keepers for the Valencia netminder on duty tonight, Jasper Cillessen, who made a couple of crucial saves, but couldn’t stop the two goals Chelsea gained on a crazy night in Spain.