EVERYTHING BUT THE GOAL
Avram Grant took the chance to rest a few of his first team regulars for this match against Spanish side Valencia, with nothing on the line, yet the Blues still dominated their rivals and were very unlucky to come away with just a 0-0 draw, the woodwork thrice denying Chelsea as well as the brilliant reflexes of Valencia goalkeeper Santiago Canizares.
Chelsea’s goalkeeper Petr Čech returned from a month out with a calf injury, as did Paulo Ferreira at right back. Tal Ben-Haim was given a start alongside skipper Terry, whilst Bridge came in for Cole at left back. Essien was available and partnered Lampard in midfield, with Wright-Phillips and Kalou the wide midfielders. Pizarro played in behind Andriy Shevchenko in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Valencia were missing goalkeeper Hildebrand through injury and midfielder Albelda through suspension. Joaquin, Caneira, Baraja and Alexis were all missing, as Ronald Koeman chose his side in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
The first chance of the game was created by Chelsea, and the rest of the match followed the same pattern. In the third minute, Shaun Wright-Phillips cleverly dinked a ball through to Frank Lampard, who then crossed low and first time as the Valencia defence went to sleep. Andriy Shevchenko arrived late, but was half a yard short on pace as he stretched, and his shot was diverted around the post by the alert Canizares.
With ten minutes played, Wright-Phillips beat his marker, Moretti, and flashed a cross with pace across the six yard box, nearly catching out Canizares who was looking to anticipate it. The goalkeeper beat it away from danger.
Midway through the first half, the busy goalkeeper was forced into another save, as Kalou opened up space for Lampard, who struck a stinging shot towards the top corner that Canizares saved with a strong right hand. It was to be an eventful evening for the Spanish keeper, who certainly earned his clean sheet.
Towards the end of the half, David Villa had a shot saved by Čech after Morientes slipped a ball through the defence; however Villa’s attempt at beating Čech at his near post was optimistic to say the least. The half ended with Lampard’s header being saved by Canizares after a beautifully chipped cross by the energetic Bridge and a tame effort from Pizarro easily saved. Shevchenko was withdrawn at the break, replaced by European specialist Claude Makelélé.
For the first fifteen minutes of the second half, the only incidents of note were substitutions, Zigic replacing the injured Villa and Frank Lampard joining Shevchenko in being rested, as he was replaced by Joe Cole.
Kalou had the ball in the back of the net with a neat finish from Pizarro’s pass, but the linesman correctly ruled the goal out for offside. After 71 minutes, Belletti replaced Ferreira, who looked comfortable upon his return from injury, and he lit up the match with a dazzling piece of skill within minutes, yet the final effort was turned onto the post by Canizares, from Pizarro’s shot. Moments earlier, Kalou wastefully hit the bar from 6 yards out after the Peruvian headed Joe Cole’s free kick across the area.
With seven minutes remaining, Joe Cole’s 20 yard shot was palmed against the post by the in-form Canizares. Sunny’s shocking backpass from the rebound nearly caught out his keeper, but Canizares acrobatically headed away for a corner to prevent a comical own goal.
The 0-0 draw at full time guaranteed Chelsea’s place at the top of the group and saw Valencia knocked out of European football for the season. It was our 50th game in a row unbeaten at home, as our incredible record stretched even further. Avram Grant will be pleased by the returns of Ferreira and Čech, plus the strong performances from Shevchenko in the first half, and Wayne Bridge. Only the woodwork and the brilliant Canizares prevent a Chelsea whitewash, and will give the Blues plenty of confidence to take on a depleted Arsenal in the Premiership this weekend.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Čech; Ferreira (Belletti 71), Ben-Haim, Terry (c), Bridge; Essien, Lampard (J Cole 61), Wright-Phillips, Pizarro, Kalou; Shevchenko (Makelélé h-t).
Valencia (4-1-4-1): Canizares; Miguel (Manuel Fernandes 64), Albiol, Helguera, Moretti; Marchena (c); Vicente (Mata 74), Silva, Sunday, Villa (Zigic 49); Morientes.
Referee Grzegorz Gilewski.