Their unique style may be ageing Blues supporters with every game, but Chelsea are quickly establishing themselves as the most watchable side in Europe.
Four months into Frank Lampard’s reign as manager we have been given a crash course in wide-open, front-foot, relentlessly attack-minded football and yet, even knowing what we knew from previous matches, this was another level.
With both Chelsea and Valencia striving for victory in a finely-balanced Group H there was carnage at the Mestalla. There was no backing down and no settling for a draw.
Fittingly, in such a evenly-matched group, the end result – 2-2 draw which had both teams exhausted and neutrals purring – left both on eight points from five games and the group still to play for in the final round of matches.
If Chelsea beat bottom side Lille on 10 December at Stamford Bridge they will reach the last 16. As such, a draw away from home in what could have been an intimidating atmosphere is not a bad result. And yet the nature of the contest meant both Lampard and his opposing manager Albert Celades were left ruing what might have been.
“We nearly won it, nearly lost it,” Lampard summed up. “It was end to end, not that we wanted it to be.”
Edge of the seat
Chelsea don’t seem to know how to put on a shut-up-shop performance, and with Andreas Christensen drafted into central defence and Reece James handed a start at right-back they had unfamiliarity amid their ranks.
To say they were fortunate to go in level 1-1 at half-time is a whopping understatement. Valencia created ample opportunities but Maxi Gomez conspired to miss two huge openings.
Carlos Soler did eventually give the hosts the lead with a fortuitous volleyed finish which Kepa Arrizabalaga should have saved, but Mateo Kovacic found the bottom corner immediately after for his first Chelsea goal in his 71st appearance to level up.
And when Christian Pulisic poached another from Kurt Zouma’s knock-down after the break it appeared the Blues had a lead to cling onto for dear life.
That thought went through many people’s heads, but not the Chelsea players, who were intent on going for the jugular.
It was an approach which did fashion some chances, but also had the effect of turning the match into a series of counter-attacks, with breathless players splitting into two groups of attack and defence.
Attack v defence
Chelsea’s modus operandi was laid out post-match but captain Cesar Azpilicueta was seen overlapping from centre-back in the closing stages.
“When we were 2-1 up we should have created more danger, more chances,” he stated. There was no condemning their lack of discipline and rigidity – more so their inability to score more goals.
Valencia saw Chelsea’s openness and agreed to push all their chips across the table. Rodrigo scooped over the bar after a mix-up between Arrizabalaga and Christensen; Dani Parejo saw his firmly-struck penalty saved by the Blues keeper after a dubious spot-kick was awarded against Jorginho; Rodrigo failed to get on the end of Jose Gaya’s cross; and Azpilicueta blocked another Parejo shot.
Fittingly for such a manic game, it was a fluke which brought the hosts level, Daniel Wass’s attempted cross flying past Arrizabalaga into the top corner.
Jasper Cillessen kept out a deflected Michy Batshuayi shot and, with Chelsea’s midfield and full-backs up the pitch, Rodrigo missed another inviting Gaya cross in the 96th minute to cap off an enthralling finish.
“We can’t turn away from the fact they had a lot of chances,” said Lampard. “Credit to the players for their work-rate and hanging on in there, but sometimes you have to be more secure than that.”
Indeed, Lampard must encourage his side to take a deep breath, slow the game down and establish control. But neutrals may be hoping he decides against it.