- Chelsea v Valencia kicks off at 8pm, live on BT Sport 3
- Frank Lampard’s first outing as coach in the Champions League
- Valencia turn up at Stamford Bridge in disarray
Group H (air-raising)
A quick word on who else these two are battling it out with for the two spots in the knockout stages come February.
Group H is one of the toughest, with four side’s all in transition but all with exciting youth and tradition to call upon.
There’s Ajax – remember what they did last season? One kick away from making the final and while they haven’t managed to keep Matthijs de Ligt (to Juventus) and Frenkie de Jong (to Barcelona) they will still be ones to watch this season.
Then there’s Lille, they finished second in Ligue 1 and while they have lost Nicolas Pepe (to Arsenal) they have already managed to replace him – step forward 20-year-old Victor Osimhen, who has scored five goals in five matches this season,
As Lampard said of the group…
“It’s tough, it will be very competitive for sure, we have to be on our guard game by game, but we have to start well, beginning tonight.”
Faith in the young
As if we hadn’t emphasised enough already just how much Lampard is backing his young stars, how about this stat to whet your appetite?
Valencia fans leave their club’s owner Peter Lim in no doubt as to their feelings over the events of the past week…
Celades and Valencia’s tough task
Valencia made the semi-finals of the Europa League last year – beaten by Arsenal – and ended the season on a high with victory in the Copa del Rey.
Since lifting their first trophy in 11 years, however, things haven’t gone according to plan (see below). And new coach Celades is under no illusions as to the size of the task facing his side this evening.
“[Chelsea] are a great side with some fantastic individual players. It will be a big challenge but a fascinating one too. We’re sure they can cause us a lot of problems. We’re going to prepare for the game in the best way possible and try to get a result.
“The Champions League, it’s a great challenge for us, we’re up for it and especially at a ground like this [Stamford Bridge]. They’ll make life difficult for us.”
The last match the Blues played in Europe (those who count the UEFA Super Cup as anything more than a glorified friendly, please forgive me…) was their 4-1 thrashing of Arsenal in the final of the Europa League at atmosphere vacuum that was Baku’s Olympic Stadium…
Experience mixed with youth
Lampard has gone with experience in Willian to compliment the raw youth of Mount and Abraham.
With Pedro, Giroud and Barkley on the bench, the coach has experience to call on if needed.
Also sitting out the opening exchanges will be Pulisic – the American played in the Champions League for Dortmund last year and many would have doubtless liked to see him start.
Blues in search of a cleansheet
This is Chelsea’s first Champions League clash since they were beaten 3-0 at the Nou Camp in the second round second-leg last March. To compound a fairly miserable season (by their high standards) they then failed to qualify for the elite competition last season. But that sad story had a happy ending as they won the Europa League to get their hands on a fairly nice consolation prize.
It’s Frank Lampard’s first match in the Champions League, a competition he played in for the Blues 102 times and won in 2012, and while the atmosphere at the club is one of surprising content – they are unbeaten in the Premier League since the opening day and have scored 11 goals in the past four matches – it is obvious where they need to improve. They have conceded 11 in the league so far (only Norwich have conceded more) and are yet to claim a cleansheet.
But if that is all too negative then the positives are equally easy to find. Chelsea are the first Premier League team in history to have 11 consecutive goals scored by players 21 or under. Abraham, Mount and Fikayo Tomori have bagged all of their strikes in the Premier League this season and the woe of the transfer ban has been replaced by the wonder of watching the side’s young guns grow on a weekly basis.
Ahead of the clash Lampard had this word of warning for his youngsters set to make their Champions League bow:
“I would say the main thing that I noticed as a player was that your concentration levels and focus throughout in every game has to be absolutely spot on. The higher level of players in the Champions League and different style of game can sometimes surprise you.”Ahead of the clash Lampard had this word of warning for his youngsters set to make their Champions League bow:
Here’s our very own Matt Law on what the Chelsea legend has told his young charges to expect – read here
Chelsea back in the big time with their opponents in disarray…
It is rare that we approach a Chelsea match where the west Londoners are easily, by comparison and a country mile, the more stable of the two sides, but that is most definitely the case this evening.
They face a side whose monied, megalomaniac of an owner has just sacked a popular boss who won silverware last season. It’s a tale familiar with many who know Chelsea of the past 15 years, but this time around it’s Peter Lim and not Roman Abramovich who has proved once again that for some billionaires – this one being a Singaporean business magnate and not a rarely spotted Russian – there is just no pleasing them.
Just last week Valencia owner Lim gave Marcelino his marching orders despite the 54-year-old leading the side to Copa Del Rey glory over Barcelona in May – their first trophy in 11 years.
To cut a longish story short Marcelino, who had the backing of the fans, was publicly critical of Lim’s interference in the transfer market and in a battle for control there was only going to be one winner with the owner losing the popularity contest.
So tonight the Spaniards are led by former Spain U-21 coach Albert Celades. His first match in charge didn’t go too well as Valencia lost 5-2 away at Barcelona. As if to emphasise the unhappiness in the camp the players all refused to speak at yesterday’s press conference – a proper strop that one – and Celades has told his team to do their talking on the pitch.
If it’s all a bit weird reading about a Chelsea’s opposition being in disarray, rather than the Stamford Bridge outfit, then don’t worry, you’re not the only one – I might need to go for a lie down…
But before I do that to add to the confusion here’s a quick lowdown on tonight’s hosts as they come into the clash fairly settled and with exciting young talents Mason Mount and Tammy Abrahams looking set to make their Champions League debuts.
More on that exciting attacking verve and their associated defensive woes coming up before kick-off at 8.
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