Chelsea begin their Champions League campaign at home to Valencia at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday (8pm, live on BT Sport).
Chelsea made the most of their failure to qualify for last year’s competition by going all the way in the Europa League, defeating Arsenal in the final for their fifth European trophy. This time around, they are back in the continent’s primary competition with a pretty tough draw.
Frank Lampard’s side are the top seeds in Group H. It also includes last year’s semi-finalists Ajax, and two teams from other big-five leagues in the form of Lille of France and Tuesday’s opponents Valencia, who finished fourth in La Liga last season.
Given that summer departures have weakened Ajax, when the draw was made Valencia were arguably the second-strongest team in the group. In addition to their top-four finish in the league, last season also saw them reach the Europa League semi-finals and defeat Barcelona in the Spanish Cup final to win their first silverware in just over a decade.
Marcelino Garcia Toral had done excellent work there in taking over a team that had finished outside the top 10 in each of the two seasons prior to his arrival and leading them to consecutive fourth-place finishes and that cup success. Last week he was sacked just three matches into the new campaign due to various tensions with the club’s owner.
The decision provoked disbelief and anger amongst both supporters and playing staff, and was the latest example of Valencia’s perpetual ability to shoot themselves in the foot. There are still some very good players there, and ones that Chelsea should be wary of, including Rodrigo Moreno and Goncalo Guedes in attack, but Valencia certainly don’t come into this fixture in the best state of mind.
Even less so following their 2-5 loss at Barcelona in their first match under new coach Albert Celades on Saturday. Valencia were two goals down inside seven minutes. While they were able to stabilise a little thereafter and get a goal back, Barcelona pushed on again after the break to add three more goals and get Celades’ reign off to a humbling start despite a late reply.
On Saturday, Celades, for whom the Valencia job is a first as head coach at club level (indeed, at any senior level), came up again a wily and seasoned coach in the form of Ernesto Valverde. There won’t be quite such a gap in experience on Tuesday, with Lampard himself in just his second season as a head coach. After leading Derby to the playoff final last season, he took over at Chelsea this summer charged with overseeing a rebuilding year.
Aside from January signing Christian Pulisic, loaned back to Borussia Dortmund for the remainder of the last campaign, a FIFA transfer ban prevented Chelsea from adding to their squad over the summer. So a number of youth team graduates have been brought back from loan spells elsewhere to fill holes in the squad and starting XI.
There is still the nucleus of an experienced group. Despite a few ups and downs so far, Chelsea have secured an acceptable, if not exactly stellar, eight points from their five league matches to date. Two of the youngsters have been prominent. Mason Mount, who spent last season on loan at Derby under Lampard, has started all five matches. Tammy Abraham is currently the Premier League’s top scorer with seven goals in five appearances.
Three of those came in Chelsea’s 5-2 win away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday. Mount and another of their youth products, Fikayo Tomori, scored the others in an impressive, swashbuckling victory.
Chelsea have played a very open style under Lampard, with their matches averaging nearly four and a half goals per game. That is the joint-highest rate in the Premier League to date. While they have won two away games on the trot, we are still not that far removed from their 0-4 defeat away at Manchester United on the opening day of the season. Also, Leicester and Sheffield United have since secured draws against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Our Preview’s Chelsea vs Valencia Betting Tips Verdict
Valencia are a team very much capable of causing problems to Chelsea in transition, with plenty of pace in their forward line and players adept at linking upfield to them. Chelsea have lacked consistency so far this season aside from in one thing: the number of goals and chances their matches have seen at both ends. With Valencia’s mental state also a bit of an unknown, backing a high-scoring match seems a better play than backing either team. Our Chelsea vs Valencia betting tip for this preview is:
- Bet on over 3.5 goals @ best odds of 12/5 with Betfair.
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