The difference between a Tuesday and a Thursday may be only a few letters (and even fewer points in the table), but they are worlds apart (here we stand, hearts broken in two, two, two) when it comes to football. Champions League football is back, baby! Lights, anthem, action!
Visiting on this occasion are Valencia, who finished fourth in Spain last season. It’s an appropriate enough throwback to that fateful 2011-12 season, when AVB’s Chelsea needed a big win at home in the final group game to qualify for the knockout rounds. Didier Drogba duly delivered a 3-0 win, while Frank Lampard was stuck on the bench. But that’s a story for another day.
(Chelsea also faced Valencia in the 2007-08 group stages, winning away and drawing at home — we also reached the final that season! — as well as in the quarterfinals of the 2006-07 Champions League, when Michael Essien, at right back, won it for us at the Mestalla in the 90th minute.)
Date / Time: Tuesday, September 17, 2019, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Forecast: Bit of a breeze on a pleasant early autumn evening
Referee: Cuneyt Çakir — speaking of 2011-12, Çakir was the referee for the second leg in Barcelona! That was his second Chelsea game. His third was Roberto Di Matteo’s final game in charge. This will be his ninth. His last one was also a draw against Barcelona, 1-1 at the Bridge when Willian hit the post twice. The man tends to be around at inflection points.
Chelsea team news: Frank Lampard’s Blues continue to battle multiple injury demons, with N’Golo Kanté, Antonio Rüdiger, Emerson, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek all set to miss out. All but Ruben should be back soon however, and that’s great news indeed.
The weekend saw the return of the
mack 3-4-3, and the return of unbridled enthusiasm for the future thanks to the 5-2 whipping of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The sort of clinical finishing exhibited by Chelsea after the lackluster opening 30 minutes could certainly come in handy the rest of the season, and could make any reasonable tactical framework an instant success.
The first month of Chelsea’s season has been defined by the youth revolution, but as Lampard himself is expecting, the club’s Champions League campaign could very well come down to the contributions of the remaining veterans and highly experienced winners in the team, many of whom should be getting the start today.
Valencia team news: Valencia recovered from a terrible start to last season (1 win in first 11 games) to finish a surprising fourth in La Liga — they didn’t even poke their head into the top half of the table until Christmas! — and yet, head coach Marcelino was sacked just three games into the new season! He’s been replaced by former Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder Albert Celades, who had the distinct misfortune to face Barcelona in his first game in charge over the weekend. Even without Messi, Barca went all Chelsea on them to the tune of 5-2.
Los Ches thus come in bruised and battered, with nothing to lose, and no expectations. And that could of course make them very dangerous indeed, even if their team is cobbled together from a cavalcade of mid-to-late 20s cast-offs who had failed to live up to expectations elsewhere — just to name a few: Cillesen, Mangala, Garay, Gabriel (of Arsenal), Kondogbia, Cheryshev, Coquelin, Guedes, Gameiro, etc. Valencia lifer and supposed Chelsea target José Luis Gayà is an excellent left back however, and Dani Parejo and Daniel Wass are solid midfielders.
Even though Chelsea were the top seed, any one of the four teams could very easily advance out of the group. Valencia are solid, Ajax are still good, Lille have the potential, and Chelsea are far from a finished product. And that makes this a must-win for the Blues, even if it’s only the first game.
Previously: About Saturday.