Ross Barkley’s missed penalty in 87th minute seemed inevitable and perfectly sums up Chelsea’s return to the Champions League. After a frustrating and disappointing 90 minutes Tuesday, the Blues found themselves on the losing end of a 1-0 scoreline against Valencia.
If Frank Lampard and co. want to advance to the knockout stage, they’ve exponentially increased the difficulty of doing so and put themselves in a massive hole after matchday 1.
Valencia ceded possession and control in the opening stages of the night. However, after 20 minutes or so, they kicked on and grew into the game with each passing minute. And in so doing, the Spaniards stifled the English attack. Willian and Cesar Azpilicueta, playing as a right wing back, interchanged well but couldn’t find the final pass, many times having it cleared out by Valencia.
Beyond that, the west London side also suffered from some bad luck very early on. The so far player of the year, Mason Mount, exited the game through injury after a nasty, but unintended, tackle from Francis Coquelin. Thankfully he walked off the pitch under his own power so it doesn’t appear to be a serious injury. But without their most creative and lively player, Chelsea were devoid of ideas.
The Blues also struggled to defend set pieces, which cost them in the end. First, on 56 minutes, Kevin Gameiro found acres of space without a defender within five yards of him. The training ground corner worked brilliantly, but fortunately for the Blues, he put the shot wide.
Later, the death blow came in the 74th minute on a Daniel Parejo free kick from 30 yards out. Once again, a training ground set piece worked spectacularly. Rodrigo ran behind the high Chelsea line and clipped the floated ball just enough to beat Kepa for the winner.
Reading the stat sheet, it looks as if Chelsea dominated the game. They had more possession, shots, shots on target, passes, higher pass accuracy, and more corners. Hell, they even had a penalty. Football, though, is a sport in which the stat sheet doesn’t always tell the story of the game.
And on a night when Chelsea just couldn’t break through, it seemed as though they had finally caught a break with five minutes remaining. The ref awarded a penalty for handball in the box after going to the VAR monitor. Chelsea had their chance to salvage a point.
Substitute Ross Barkley grabbed the ball with authority and prepared to take the penalty. Jorginho and Willian questioned his decision near the spot, however Barkley won the argument and took his position.
Now, there may not have been a full moon in London, but it sure seemed like it as the Englishman struck the ball. He hit it hard and down the middle, but clanked the cross bar. And as the ball skied upwards and out past the byline, the Valencians roared in elation.
Marcos Alonso had one last free kick in stoppage time and forced Jasper Cillessen into a good save. But it was a moot point. Even with that last chance, the game seemed sealed and delivered with the previously missed penalty.
This loss severely hurts Chelsea’s chances of getting out of the group. First, they lost a home match in an unforgiving competition. There are only six matches which doesn't leave too much room for error, plus their next two matches are on the road to Lille and Ajax, in that order.
Moreover, in the other game in the group Tuesday, Ajax convincingly won 3-0 showing they’re favorites for the group. Based on today’s results, it’s safe to assume they’ll beat Chelsea in Amsterdam in a month’s time. Can Chelsea win in France, though, on matchday two against Lille? Of course they can, but a draw seems more likely having to travel there.
It’s only matchday one and there are five remaining, but Chelsea are already facing a tough uphill battle in the group. They could arguably, and probably, have only one point after facing all the teams in the group the first time around and will therefore have to play catch up.
Tuesday’s loss to Valencia was in no way catastrophic, but certainly a big dent to Chelsea’s chances of advancing to the next round. With the amount of young, talented players at Stamford Bridge, odds are they’ll have short memories and remain upbeat.
Ultimately though, good vibes don’t matter unless they turn into results. And the west London club need to do that with their next European game as they’re already behind the eight ball and in a massive hole.