A goal scored by our visitors from Spain in the 74th minute consigned Chelsea to defeat on our return to the Champions League.
Hopes were high that an impressive win in our most recent Premier League outing could be built upon as the more familiar of the European anthems welcomed last season’s Europa League winners and one of semi-finalists from that competition on the Stamford Bridge turf, but having had a couple of efforts well saved by the opposition goalkeeper and then having gone one goal down when Rodrigo scored, the best chance of all to find the Valencia net was missed when Ross Barkley hit the woodwork from the spot late on. It was a penalty that had been awarded following a consultation with VAR.
To compound the disappointment for the Blues on Matchday One, we lost Mason Mount early in the game to injury.
This was just the second time we have suffered defeat in our opening group stage game in the Champions League, the previous having been also at home, against Basel in 2013/14. That season we recovered to make the knockout stages. The quest to do so this season continues with a trip to Lille in two weeks. The French side lost 3-0 tonight at Ajax.
There were four Champions League debuts in Frank Lampard’s selection today which showed one enforced change from the side that had begun the win at Wolves. That was Kurt Zouma in for the player he had replaced at half-time at Molineux, Toni Rudiger, who strained a groin muscle there.
Kepa plus goalscorers on Saturday, Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount were those new to this competition tonight. The formation remained the same as at Wolves with three at the back. Willian and Azpilicueta became the seventh and eighth overseas players to make 50 European appearances for Chelsea.
It took five minutes for the Premier League’s joint topscorer Abraham to have his first sniff of a Champions League goal but the Valencia keeper was there to block as Azpilicueta’s delivery reached the near post.
Chelsea continued to pressure the Spaniards’ goal but play was interrupted for treatment to Mount, the victim of a nasty challenge from Francis Coquelin who was booked. The Frenchman was one of two former Arsenal players in our opponents’ side. The other was Gabriel who has a history of getting on the wrong side of referees at Stamford Bridge but stayed out of trouble tonight.
Unfortunately our newest England international tried to continue following Coquelin’s foul but the pain proved too much. Mount was replaced by Pedro with only 15 minutes played. The youngster was clearly upset that such a big night had been cut short.
The game felt a bit stagnant for a spell after that. Valencia had their best attacks so far as they moved the ball quickly but our young defence coped, with Tomori especially dealing with some difficult situations well.
On 25 minutes, Azpilicueta delivered a quality cross at the other end which was meant for Abraham. As the big defender challenged with his markers the ball went wide. For the rest of the first period it was the Blues who made the running.
Willian tried to make something from nothing with a dribble down the middle and shot from the edge of the area but he dragged that wide, followed by a run into the box by Tomori as the crowd cried shoot, hoping for a repeat of Saturday’s spectacular. Instead the defender crossed, unsuccessfully.
With five minutes to go before the break it looked to be opening up for the best Chelsea chance yet as Mateo Kovacic found Willian’s run behind the defence. The Brazilian chested the ball down but shinned it over the bar as it dropped. He made a far better contact on the half-time whistle when the ball was again played his way but Jasper Cillessen in the Valencia goal saved smartly.
The story of the first half had been one of two sides that had largely cancelled each other out but there had been enough there to offer hope of a Chelsea goal after the resumption.
There could however have been a goal for Valencia 10 minutes into the second half had the shot been more accurate after they caught Chelsea napping with a corner routine. It began a tale of set-pieces that decided the game.
From a free-kick on the hour, Chelsea forced a save. Marcos Alonso had taken it and fired it in low but Cillessen was sufficiently alert. Then Willian did not spot Pedro unmarked and well-placed for a shot when Chelsea broke forward with pace.
With just under 20 minutes to go, Lampard made a switch – bringing on Oliver Giroud to play alongside Abraham with Zouma brought off and Azpilicueta moving into the back three.
Before our remodelled strike force had any chance to make an impact however, Valencia quickly won a free-kick and took the lead. Rodrigo was able to escape the marking as the ball was chipped in and he sent it into the roof of the net from close range.
Giroud fired powerfully but straight at the keeper in open play before, as we attacked again the Chelsea appeals went up. Handball by Daniel Wass was the claim. When play next stopped, the ref was told by his VAR to review it pitchside and the penalty was given. There were 88 minutes played. Barkley was the taker but he went high and straight and clipped the top of the crossbar.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Kepa; Zouma (Giroud 74), Christensen, Tomori; Azpilicueta (c), Jorginho, Kovacic (Barkley 80), Alonso; Willian, Abraham, Mount (Pedro 15).
Unused subs Caballero, Guehi, Pulisic, Batshuayi.
Booked Jorginho 33, Giroud 90.
Valencia (4-3-3): Cillessen; Wass, Garay, Gabriel, Gaya; Coquelin, Kondogbia, Parejo (c); Cheryshev (Diakhaby 90+2), Gameiro (Gomez 70), Rodrigo (Lee 89).
Unused subs Jaume, Jaume Costa, Torres, Guedes.
Scorer Rodrigo 74
Booked Coquelin 9
Referee Cuneyt Cakır from Turkey.