Chelsea were in a very different place last time they took on Valencia.
The Blues were just six competitive games into Frank Lampard’s tenure as manager when they kicked off their Champions League campaign against the Spanish side on 17 September.
After an exciting but inconsistent start to the season, Chelsea ran into frustration at Stamford Bridge as they failed to score for the first time this season. Thirteen games on, Valencia remain the only team to have shut out Lampard’s forward-thinking side.
Rodrigo’s volley from a free-kick earned the away side three points and, with the two teams meeting again on Wednesday evening at the Estadio Mestalla, that blank has proved costly in a tight, competitive Group H.
With two group games left to play Chelsea sit second, level on seven points with both leaders Ajax and third-placed Valencia. But because their two rivals meet on the final matchday, Lampard and his team know victory in Spain could prove crucial.
“It is a must win,” captain Cesar Azpilicueta said on Saturday, after the 2-1 defeat at Manchester City. “We have a great chance to qualify for the next stage and it is like a final.”
Encouragingly for the Blues, they have come a long way in a relatively short time since their last encounter.
Eight victories from the last 12 Premier League games have seen young players grow in confidence, Lampard win plaudits and Chelsea move into the top four.
Meanwhile, although Valencia have moved on from the player protests that followed the sacking of popular manager Marcelino in September, they remain unpredictable under his successor Albert Celades.
Four wins, four draws and three defeats in the league under ex-Spain boss Julen Lopetegui’s former assistant is a mixed bag which has Los Che 10th in La Liga and some fans unconvinced.
Chelsea’s failure to score at home against Valencia owed much to an early injury to Mason Mount, who left the pitch just 15 minutes into his Champions League debut after a heavy challenge by Francis Coquelin.
Mount played only the final 20 minutes of the City defeat and, with Chelsea needing a result, is in contention to return to the starting line-up in Spain.
The return to fitness of N’Golo Kante, who took Mount’s place and opened the scoring against City, is an obvious boost for Lampard who now has real competition for places in central midfield.
Despite losing at the weekend, Chelsea will not come into the clash low on confidence.
Lampard said his side “felt in control” at the Etihad Stadium, limiting City to 46.7 per cent of possession – the lowest amount in any of Pep Guardiola’s 381 top-flight matches as a manager – and the attacking brief in Spain will suit their front-foot approach.
The growing squad depth, youthful exuberance, steady flow of goals and burgeoning confidence means Chelsea should have what it takes to cope with the imposing atmosphere the 55,000-capacity Mestalla creates and avoid a repeat of the slip in their previous meeting with Valencia.