CHELSEA REIGN IN SPAIN
Chelsea’s win at the Mestalla brought joy to Avram Grant; his second win as Chelsea manager, and one of much more significance than the Carling Cup win at Hull. Chelsea showed that the team spirit, fighting qualities and pride did not depart with José Mourinho, as they fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1, Joe Cole the hero with the equalising goal and a magnificent assist for Didier Drogba’s winner.
Ricardo Carvalho was fit again and able to partner John Terry in defence for the first time this season, our fearless leader playing in a face mask following facial surgery over the weekend. Paulo Ferreira was preferred to Juliano Belletti at right back, the Portuguese defender making his 100th Chelsea appearance, whilst Mikel, Essien and the evergreen Makelélé made up the midfield three. Andriy Shevchenko was only on the bench as Drogba started in between Malouda and Joe Cole in a front three. Valencia started with the dangerous attacking foursome of David Silva, Joaquin, David Villa and Fernando Morientes. Timo Hildebrand was in goal despite the return to fitness of Santiago Canizares.
Seven minutes in saw Valencia take the lead, a cool finish from David Villa breaking open the deadlock. Paulo Ferreira’s clearance took an unlucky ricochet off Michael Essien, the ball diverting past Ricardo Carvalho and into the path of the pacy Villa, who sped onto the loose ball, before tucking it past Petr Čech in the Chelsea goal.
Valencia had the better of the first fifteen minutes of play, and Čech had to be alert to keep out Joaquin’s shot from a tight angle. However, shortly after, Chelsea equalised against the run of play. Didier Drogba played a fabulous one-two with Florent Malouda, before the French winger played the ball across the six yard box. With Hildebrand committed, Joe Cole had the easiest of tasks in tapping the ball into an unguarded net, despite the best efforts of Moretti.
The score was 1-1 at half time, the only two incidents of note in the first half being the goals and the save from Čech. The half to follow, however, could prove to be the making of Chelsea’s season.
Morientes and Villa had worked impressively together in attack for the Spanish side, and thought they had carved out a second goal after Villa nipped in to beat Čech. However, the Spanish striker was offside when Morientes brilliantly chested the ball through the Chelsea defence and needn’t have intervened as Morientes possibly would have scored himself.
Gigantic Serbian striker Nikola Zigic replaced Morientes after 68 minutes, as he looked to throw his 6’8” frame around and cause problems for the rock solid pairing of Terry and Carvalho.
Two minutes later, Chelsea scored a goal of astonishing quality and one worthy of winning any football match. Joe Cole won possession deep in his own half and with a neat turn left the Valencia player behind. He steadied himself, before hitting a glorious 35 yard pass with the outside of his right foot, bending it around the Valencia defence and into the path of the onrushing Drogba, who shrugged off the challenge of Albiol. The Chelsea striker’s first touch led the ball on towards goal, before he added a sublime left footed finish past Hildebrand to round off a truly magical goal.
Chelsea had their noses in front, and showed true determination in not letting the lead slip.
Albelda was replaced by Baraja, before a raft of substitutions featured in the final ten minutes. For Chelsea, Steve Sidwell replaced Essien and Kalou went on for Malouda, whilst Arizmendi replaced Joaquin for the home side.
Marchena’s volley whistled narrowly wide of Čech’s upright with four minutes left, whilst Alex replaced Jon Obi Mikel in the final moments. Kalou showed another piece of Kezman-esque finishing as he hit over the crossbar late on, before a quick free kick caught out Chelsea, Baraja’s shot saved by Čech, with what turned out to be the last kick of the game.
This victory at the Mestalla slightly relieved the pressure on Avram Grant, despite the stories of Dutch masters Ten Cate and Hiddink circulating in the press. The spirited second half performance and sublime second goal ensured that Chelsea were entirely deserving of the three points and have a stepping stone on which to build their European campaign and the rest of the season. Bring on Bolton and the scene of our first Premiership title in 50 years.
Valencia (4-4-2) Hildebrand; Miguel, Albiol, Helguera, Moretti; Joaquin (Arizmendi 88), Albelda (c) (Baraja 75), Marchena, Silva; Morientes (Zigic 68), Villa.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Mikel (Alex 88), Makelélé, Essien (Sidwell 83); J Cole, Drogba, Malouda (Kalou 84).
Referee Roberto Rosetti.