Valencia 1 Chelsea 2: Drogba rises above turmoil as Chelsea rediscover self-belief
Avram Grant: not quite special yet, but a notch above normal after last night. Where once the mighty Jose Mourinho conquered so too the Israeli coach with the hangdog expression struck the first serious blow of his new regime: a victory over Valencia delivered – in sensational style – by Didier Drogba.
For now at least, Grant will not have to listen to the stories of how Mourinho conquered the Mestalla in April after the new Chelsea manager dealt Valencia only their sixth home defeat in 46 European matches having come from one goal behind. Grant did it much the same way as Mourinho liked to win football matches, with a 4-5-1 formation and a stunning performance from his Ivorian striker.
Drogba was a revelation, intimidating the Valencia defence, cajoling the referee and then, on 71 minutes, taking Joe Cole's exquisite through ball into his stride and beating Timo Hildebrand in the home goal. From Grant himself there was a barb for Mourinho when he said that style of his team's victory was just as important as the fact that they had repeated the feat of Chelsea five months earlier.
"I understand I am new to the team but they [Chelsea] chose me to lead another way of football," he said. "I think this is the right thing to do for the footballing way of Chelsea. We are trying to play another way of football which will be very good for the club. I think the Chelsea fans today will be very happy at the way we have done it."
That was one in the eye for Mourinho who may wish to remind his successor that his victory was in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, which are still a long way off for Grant. For now you cannot begrudge the new Chelsea manager his first opportunity to be taken seriously as a coach. The manager who emerged from nowhere now has one of the most unusual records in English football: lost one, drawn one and two away wins – one over Hull City and the other against Valencia.
With Chelsea having fallen behind to David Villa's opportunist goal on eight minutes, last night was an occasion to admire the power of Drogba – one of the players least accepting of Mourinho's departure. Alone in attack he bludgeoned the Valencia defence. He was preferred to Andrei Shevchenko who was not even summoned from the bench even in the last exhausting minutes of Valencia's desperate final salvo.
"I think it's a start for a new, good way," Grant said. With a conservative formation and Claude Makelele playing as a third central defender at times, the new way looked a lot like the old way. In the centre of defence, the return of Ricardo Carvalho alongside John Terry stabilised Chelsea. For the final moments of the match, Grant switched to 5-4-1 with Alex da Costa as an extra central defender – a move that only served to invite Valencia to pile on the pressure and almost cost Chelsea.
With the prospective arrival of the Ajax coach Henk ten Cate as a first team coach alongside Grant it would appear that the tactical preparation is a concern for the Chelsea hierarchy. At the end of the game, Grant cut a strange figure, alone on the pitch and not sure whether he should follow his players over to the corner to applaud the fans. In the end he decided against testing his popularity with Chelsea's hardcore support.
The five-man midfield is always recommended away at Valencia to combat David Silva's tendency to drift in from the left wing and it was he who inadvertently opened Chelsea up right down the middle. The winger challenged for a ball with Paulo Ferreira and Makelele in the left channel, half-winning possession before the Frenchman was able to get a foot in.
From there the ball ricocheted first off Villa and then off Michael Essien, before falling nicely for Villa who had broken away from Terry. The Chelsea captain had no chance of catching him in the couple of paces it took the striker to slip the ball under Petr Cech. It was a strange goal, calamitous for Chelsea but unlucky as well. Valencia seemed refreshingly willing to throw the kitchen sink at them with an attacking unit of Villa, Silva, Fernando Morientes and Joaquin wide on the right.
For a while it looked as if Chelsea might find themselves engulfed by Valencia's appetite to attack then, on 21 minutes, Drogba was part of an improbable equaliser. He shepherded the ball out right to Florent Malouda, the winger cut the ball back for Joe Cole who, reaching it at the same time as Emiliano Moretti, was able to send it into the net.
It was a goal that came blatantly against the run of play but after the fortnight Grant has had he may well feel that he deserves a little luck. Two minutes after the goal Drogba hit an outrageous shot from 25 yards that had Hildebrand concerned for a moment. Shocked and losing their shape, Valencia's stream of attacks began to fail.
Like Barcelona before them, they seem to regard Chelsea's style as an affront to the dignity of full-blooded attacking Spanish football.
Villa had a goal disallowed when he strayed marginally offside and Chelsea escaped. Their winner was made by Joe Cole, who was lively throughout even if he looked determined to dribble around the entire Valencia defence on his own. On 71 minutes he did not delay releasing the ball. Hit from the right wing to the left channel, struck with the outside of his right foot Cole's ball eluded four Valencia defenders to reach Drogba who held off the challenge of Raul Albiol to score and put Chelsea top of Group B.
Valencia (4-4-2): Hildebrand; Miguel, Albiol, Helguera, Moretti; Joaquin (Arizmendi, 89), Albelda (Baraja, 74), Marchena, Silva; Morientes (Zigic, 69), Villa. Substitutes not used: Canizares (gk), Sunny, Angulo, Alexis.
Chelsea (4-5-1): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; J Cole, Makelele, Essien (Sidwell, 84), Mikel (Alex, 89), Malouda (Kalou, 85); Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Shevchenko, Pizarro, Belletti.
Referee: R Rosetti (Italy).
Results: Chelsea 1 Rosenborg 1; Schalke 04 0 Valencia 1; Rosenborg 0 Schalke 04 2; Valencia 1 Chelsea 2.
Remaining fixtures: 24 Oct: Chelsea v Schalke 04; Rosenborg v Valencia. 6 Nov: Schalke 04 v Chelsea; Valencia v Rosenborg. 28 Nov: Rosenborg v Chelsea; Valencia v Schalke 04. 11 Dec: Chelsea v Valencia; Schalke 04 v Rosenborg.