Valencia battle to frantic draw as Chelsea miss chance to reach knock-outs
Champions League Group H – Mestalla – Valencia 2 (Soler 40’, Wass 82’) Chelsea 2 (Kovacic 41’, Pulisic 50’)
Chelsea were made to wait in their bid to reach the Champions League knock-out stages after Valencia battled to a 2-2 draw in Spain.
The hosts took the lead when Carlos Soler’s volley squeezed past Kepa Arrizabalaga, but Chelsea were only behind for a minute as Mateo Kovacic quickly responded with his first goal for the club.
Kepa then preserved Chelsea’s advantage when superbly saving Dani Parejo’s penalty.
But with under 10 minutes left, Kepa was deceived by a cross as Daniel Wass watched his outswinger go in off the post.
The first half was an affair played at breakneck speed, with both teams showing direct attacking intent. It was Valencia who created the better chances, with Maxi Gomez twice missing when he should have scored, first with a fresh air kick, then forcing a save from Kepa from close range.
The goal did come eventually with the hosts on top. Japser Cillessen hoofed the ball upfield and the ball was worked to Rodrigo, who crossed to Carlos Soler, who volleyed home the finish despite Kepa getting a hand to it.
At the other end, Chelsea showcased their threat when Cillessen was forced into a superb save to tip away a Tammy Abraham volley and the eventual equaliser came just a minute after Soler's goal when Mateo Kovacic collected a poor clearance and squeezed in an excellent strike at the near post.
Valencia were made to rue their profligacy immediately after the restart. An N'golo Kante cross was headed on by Kurt Zouma into the path of Pulisic, who prodded the ball beyond Cillessen. Though an offside flag was raised, a lengthy VAR referral found the American onside and the goal stood.
Valencia's wastefulness continued as they missed a golden opportunity to get back on level terms when Jorginho felled Jose Gaya. Dani Parejo stepped up to take the resulting spot kick but Kepa got a big hand to it to push it away.
After missing a glut of well-crafted chances, it was almost appropriate that a freak occurrence eventually got Valencia back on terms. Wass got a yard of space on the right and crossed it towards the far post, Kepa totally misjudged the flight of the ball and it sailed into the top corner.
Deep into the seven minutes of added time, Valencia missed one final chance to win it, with Gaya picking out Rodrigo at the far post but, with the goal at his mercy, the ball harmlessly collided with him and went wide.
TALKING POINT - The case for VAR
Much has been said about the length of time VAR referrals have taken but here we saw the true benefit of the technology. To the naked eye it looked as though Pulisic was offisde for Chelsea's second goal but after the VAR was used properly, the goal stood. Finally an argument in favour of it...
MAN OF THE MATCH
Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea): While the midfield was bipassed by two teams desperate to get on the front foot for much of this match, it was a midfielder who arguably impressed the most, scoring a fine goal always posing a threat. An honourable mention goes to Christian Pulisic for a lively performance.
19' HOW IS THIS NOT A GOAL?!
Parejo plays a wonderful ball to Rodrigo, who squares it invitingly for Gomez to apply the finish but he somehow kicks at thin air and somehow Chelsea survive. All he had to do was make contact to score.
30' Another huge miss from Valencia and it's Gomez again!
They play some wonderful football and Soler slips in Gomez to apply the finish but somehow it goes wide via a touch from Kepa, who should have been beaten easily.
Cillessen hoofs it clear and Rodrigo picks up the ball, cuts inside onto his left foot and picks out Soler brilliantly. He volleys it and it squeezes past Kepa, who got a hand to it but not enough.
Chelsea were not behind for long. Valencia fail to clear their lines from an Azpilicueta cross and Kovacic collects it and produces a fine finish to beat Cillessen at his near post from just outside the area.
Kante hangs in a ball towards the back post, Zouma nods it on and Pulisic is first to it, edging the ball into the back of the net. The flag is up though and it won't count, pending a check from VAR...
And the decision is overturned and the goal stands after a lengthy referral. Chelsea lead 2-1!
63' Penalty to Valencia!
Soler slips in a ball towards Gaya, who is in a tangle of Jorginho and goes down under the pressure from the Italy international.
64' WHAT A SAVE!
It's Parejo who steps up and he shoots powerfully to Kepa's right but the Spanish goalkeeper gets a good hand to it to push it away.
Valencia are level this time and after missing a series of easy chances, I'm not even sure if they meant this! Daniel Wass gets a yard of space down the right and tries to cross it towards the far post. Kepa completely misjudges it and it flies into the back of the net.
90+6' ANOTHER VALENCIA MISS!
It's a familiar story for the hosts as Rodrigo has the goal at his mercy but he fails to tap it home, the ball running harmlessly of his foot and wide. Heads in hands everywhere.