Drogba 4, Ramirez 21, Drogba 75
When you need a win against a team that’s won seven of its last eight games to guarantee progress to the next stage of the Champions League, you can’t ask for much more than a goal in the first four minutes.
Yet that’s exactly what Chelsea got in this game against Valencia it was just what Andre Villas-Boas’ team needed to settle their nerves and it was the foundation upon which they built a fine performance which ultimately saw them safely through to the last 16. Given the result between Genk and Bayer Levakusen, they also finished top of the group.
It was a performance from the Chelsea of old – Didier Drogba led the line superbly, scoring the important first as well as the third goal, which put the result beyond doubt. He terrorised Valencia’s defenders throughout the match and on another night might have scored more.
At the back, John Terry and Petr Cech were back to something approaching their best, the former looking solid and the latter making a string of fine saves.
The youngster Oriol Romeu completed the spine by filling the all-important Makalele role superbly. The only person missing was Frank Lampard, relegated to the bench and not used as a sub, even when Ramires was brought off, Jon Obi Mikel favoured instead.
Much could have gone wrong in the game for Villas-Boas and it’s a testament to the coach himself that Chelsea produced their best performance of the season to date. The result may have been the same as against Newcastle at the weekend, but this Chelsea looked much more solid, defending deep and allowing Valencia to have possession in their own third but pressing elsewhere.
Drogba opened the scoring after Daniel Sturridge crossed from the right wing, finding Juan Mata on the far post. The former Valencia player cut the ball back to Drogba, whose neat drag back wrong-footed two defenders before he buried the ball in the far bottom corner.
Briefly following goal Chelsea stopped closing Valencia down in midfield their early intensity seemed to have disappeared but on 21 minutes they were two up. Drogba, who was in superb form all night, broke from midfield and played a poor through-ball for Ramires. But the Brazilian muscled Valencia’s Victor Ruiz off the ball to score.
With 15 minutes to go, Drogba settled it after Mata split the visitor’s defence with a beautifully weighted pass. One-on-one with the keeper, Drogba made no mistake.
Chelsea looked united – even Lampard, clearly annoyed at being substituted against Newcastle, was cheering and smiling at the goals. Not only does this result see The Blues qualify, it vindicates Villas-Boas’ management ability and might provide the tactical template to continue their revival from their recent slump.
Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Ivanovic, Terry, Luiz, Cole; Romeu; Meireles; Ramires (Mikel 64), Sturridge, Drogba (Torres 76), Mata (Malouda 83).
Valencia (4-4-1-1): Diego Alves; Barragan, Rami, Victor Ruiz, Jordi Alba (Aduriz 54); Feghouli, Tino Costa, Albelda, Mathieu; Jonas; Soldado.
Did you know… Valencia have scored in all but two of their 19 away games this season.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Chelsea v Man City