Matchday One is upon us as another of the season’s competitions begins. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton begin the Champions League trail…
There are parallels and contrasts between Chelsea and Valencia and their coaches, who will square up as Handel blares out this evening. Frank Lampard and Albert Celades will both take charge of a Champions League match for the first time, and the two sides were involved in 5-2 results at the weekend. Whereas the Blues ran out impressive victors at Wolves, though, Los Che suffered the same scoreline in reverse at the hands of Barcelona.
As this trip to Stamford Bridge, home of the Europa League winners, will be Celades’ second ever match as a head coach, it is set to be quite a baptism of fire for the 44-year-old Catalan.
Both clubs are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of their first ever campaign in the reformatted Champions League. Including one in the old European Cup, this is Els Taronges’ 13th season in the competition, while the Londoners are contesting the trophy for the 16th time.
Chelsea are unbeaten in six previous matches against the men from Spain’s third largest city: three wins and three draws. After the last meeting, in the 2011/12 group stage, Lampard went on to lift the trophy as captain in Munich. Only John Terry (with 109) made more Champions League appearances than Chelsea’s head coach, who managed 102 in his playing career.
This is the third time the Blues have been allocated to Group H – the first was in that Champions League debut season two decades ago.
Chelsea’s Champions League group history
Group A 2006/07 (SF), 2008/09 (SF)Group B 2007/08 (F)Group C 2017/18 (R16)Group D 2009/10 (R16)Group E 2011/12 (W), 2012/13 (GS), 2013/14 (SF)Group F 2010/11 (QF)Group G 2003/04 (SF), 2005/06 (R16), 2014/15 (R16), 2015/16 (R16)Group H 1999/00* (QF), 2004/05 (SF), 2019/20* First group stage. R16 = Round of 16, QF = quarter-finals, SF = semi-finals, F = final, W = winners
Striker poser for Chelsea
While other parts of the team remain depleted by injury, Frank Lampard has a selection to make upfront. Olivier Giroud was top scorer in the Europa League as Chelsea lifted the trophy last season, while Michy Batshuayi came off the bench to deliver a lively cameo at Wolves.However, it is Tammy Abraham who is currently generating the numbers. At 21 years and 347 days old on Saturday he became Chelsea’s youngest hat-trick goalscorer in the Premier League. He had four shots, and all three that were on target found the net.
The second was his first headed goal in the top flight, while Fikayo Tomori opened his Chelsea account brilliantly from 35 yards and Jorginho registered a first assist for the club on Abraham’s third.
With Mason Mount completing the rout the Londoners are the first team in Premier League history to score 11 consecutive goals all by players aged 21 or younger.
Goals – from anywhere – are vital on the opening night of the group. Chelsea have scored on each of the last 38 European nights at the Bridge, netting 99 goals at an average of 2.6 per game.
Tactical switch makes Wolves wobble
Sky Sports’ ‘Goals On Sunday’ guest Tony Pulis revealed that each season when the fixtures list was released, he and his staff would scour the dates hoping they would face one of the top-six clubs either after a European match or an international break. Their opponents, he reasoned, might be less sharp or well-prepared as usual simply because of time constraints.
However, Frank Lampard and his coaches worked for just two days this week on a tactical approach against a dangerous opponent and came up with a Swiss Army knife of a solution.
The 3-4-3 system, one of several variations worked on in pre-season, provided a back three that locked down Wolves’ front two. Marcos Alonso had pacy support from left centre-back Tomori against the dangerous Adama Traore, helping pin the winger back, while Mount and Willian were able to tuck inside behind Abraham and find gaps.
It is the kind of tactical flexibility that should serve the squad well as another two fronts open up over the next week. Victory tonight would extend our club record unbeaten run in Europe (excluding shoot-outs) to 17 games.
Carabao Cup and Champions League catch-up
Next week’s Carabao Cup visitors, Grimsby, salvaged a point with two late goals away to Oldham at the weekend. Tonight the League Two club visit Salford, before hosting the team they beat to book a date at the Bridge, Macclesfield.
On the other side of Group H, last season’s semi-finalists Ajax and Lille, currently fifth in Ligue 1, meet in Amsterdam this evening.
Having thrashed Nuno Espirito Santo’s current club on Saturday, Chelsea host his former side this evening. The Valencia club is set up similarly to Wolves: both have owners from the Far East, with Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes brokering football deals.Singaporean Peter Lim bought Los Che in 2014 and also owns half of League Two club Salford City – a business relationship that led to fellow shareholder Gary Neville’s four-month tenure at Mestalla beginning in December 2015. Neville succeeded Santo, who was swiftly installed at Molineux.
‘I knew it was a difficult time in the club,’ Neville said of his spell there. ‘I knew they’d sacked 15 managers in 13 years.’
Lim acted swiftly to remove Neville back then and six days ago ejected Marcelino, who last season secured fourth place, Champions League football and their first trophy in 11 years: the Copa del Rey.
For Celades, Lim’s latest (and eighth) managerial appointment, this is a brand new challenge, as it was for Neville. He was assistant to Julen Lopetegui at Spain and Real Madrid but has never been a head coach before and has former boss Marcelino’s popularity in the dressing room to overcome.
It did not help that Dutch goalie Jasper Cillessen had to retrieve the ball from the net five times on Saturday, his first return to Camp Nou after a summer departure. On the positive side for tonight’s visitors, young striker Maxi Gomez opened his account for Los Che, and onetime PSG man Kevin Gameiro extended his run of goals against Barcelona to six in 19 games.
Former Arsenal players Francis Coquelin and Gabriel both played the whole 90 minutes as Valencia slipped to 13th in the Spanish league table. With four players 30 or over in the first 11 picked by Celades on Saturday, the team’s average age was almost two-and-a-half years higher than Chelsea’s the same day.
Sunday’s Premier League visitors Liverpool begin their defence of the Champions League in southern Italy against Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli this evening. The Reds lost 1-0 there last season.
Emma Hayes’s side, third in the WSL table after Sunday’s last-gasp equaliser at Brighton, take on West Ham in the first group stage match of the Women’s League Cup on Sunday at 2pm.
Chelsea’s Under-19s, UEFA Youth League finalists the past two years under Joe Edwards (now assistant to Frank Lampard), host their Valencia counterparts in a 1pm kick-off today at Cobham with Andy Myers at the helm.
Champions League changes
Each Champions League match night, two games will kick off at 5.55pm and the remainder at 8pm as UEFA continue their experiment aimed at boosting viewing figures and revenue. Two of Chelsea’s away games – Ajax and Valencia – will fill the earlier slot. The staggered start times will be reviewed at the end of the 2020/21 campaign.
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system will be used in the group stage of Europe’s elite competition for the first time tonight, having debuted in the knockout stages last season. The move means no more wand-wielding ‘additional assistant referees’ behind each goal.
Referees Committee chair Roberto Rosetti says UEFA’s aim with VAR is to deliver ‘maximum benefit from minimum interference.’ Rather than the official facilities of Stockley Park used by the Premier League, UEFA’s video review teams are based in trucks next to the stadium.
Another novelty for the group stage is that each coach will be able to name 12 players on their bench, though only three may be called upon. (A fourth substitute may be used in extra-time during the knockout rounds.)
Champions League fixtures
TuesdayInter v Slavia Prague 5.55pmLyon v Zenit St Petersburg 5.55pmAjax v Lille 8pmBenfica v Leipzig 8pmChelsea v Valencia 8pmDortmund v Barcelona 8pmNapoli v Liverpool 8pmSalzburg v Genk 8pm
WednesdayClub Bruges v Galatasaray 5.55pmOlympiacos v Tottenham 5.55pmAtletico Madrid v Juventus 8pmBayern Munich v Red Star Belgrade 8pmDinamo Zagreb v Atalanta 8pmLeverkusen v Lokomotiv Moscow 8pmPSG v Real Madrid 8pmShakhtar Donetsk v Manchester City 8pm