Valencia host Chelsea on Wednesday evening in a crunch clash in Group H, with three sides sat on seven points heading into the fifth round of fixtures.
The context of the group has set this up to be an intriguing encounter, and following Valencia’s smash and grab victory back in September, Chelsea will be keen for revenge. Rodrigo’s late winner saw Valencia to the win, as Ross Barkley missed a late penalty.
Valencia are in amongst an injury crisis themselves, and look short defensively, whilst Chelsea are only without Barkley and Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Frank Lampard’s side will be confident of doing the job this time round in Spain.
Valencia set up in a 4-4-2 for their defeat to Real Betis on Saturday, and Albert Celades’ side showed their willingness to sit deep and concede possession for large periods of the game, with Gabriel Paulista and Elquiliem Mangala being camped in and around the 18 yard box for long periods. Valencia operated in a similar way against Chelsea in the win at Stamford Bridge back in September, and it would be no surprise to see them choose to do so once again.
However, despite their willingness to sit in, it is worth noting that in that game against Chelsea, they let up an xG of 2.87, and throughout the season in La Liga, they have seen an xGa of 23.07 across their 14 league matches, showing that despite sitting deep and looking to frustrate teams, they are susceptible to conceding a lot of chances.
Chelsea may need to be patient, and it would be no surprise to see them see the ball for long periods of the match, so as a result how Lampard chooses to set up his side, particularly in midfield, opens up an interesting tactical battle. Valencia’s injuries have left them short in the middle of midfield, and with Geoffrey Kondogbia and Francis Coquelin expected to miss out, Daniel Wass is expected to start, and the differences in the Danish midfielder’s numbers compared to that of Kondogbia highlight an area where Chelsea can overrun the Spaniards and dominate, particularly with the ball-playing ability of Matteo Kovacic and Jorginho, as well as the box-to-box running of N’Golo Kante. With Kondogbia averaging 1.9 tackles, 2.0 interceptions and 1.0 clearances per game for Valencia, he will be a huge miss on Wednesday night, and it could easily see Chelsea overrun the Valencia midfield.
It could see a deeper role for one of Rodrigo Moreno or Maxi Gomez in attack to help cope, but with the Spanish side not likely to look and press the Chelsea backline, a weakness highlighted by Manchester City on Saturday once again, it could play into the hands of Chelsea’s attackers, with Willian and Christian Pulisic particularly in impressive form. Reece James could start at right back once again, and his energy and ability to get beyond the forward should upset the Valencia backline, allowing Chelsea an outlet in behind the Valencia defence, and it would be no surprise to see this area targeted, and Chelsea look to accumulate a vast number of crosses, particularly down this flank.
Tammy Abraham is particularly well suited to cause the Valencia backline problems, and Paulista and Mangala have shown a vulnerability in the air. Gabriel has only won on average 2.2 aerials per game, and Mangala 2.0, so Abraham will look to bully the centre halves from crosses into the box. Although they have only conceded once off a corner so far this season, Valencia have seen an xGa of 2.54 from corners, so this could certainly be an area Chelsea look to target, particularly with the aerial threat of Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma from the back.
With Chelsea invited to attack and full backs expected to press on, it should leave space for Valencia to attack into on the counter, and the pace of Rodrigo and Maxi Gomez, as well as Manu Vallejo and Feran Torres out wide, should be able to cause Chelsea some problems. Torres highlighted his ability to drive on the ball in setting up Gomez for the opener against Betis, so Emerson or Marcos Alonso will have to aware of the tricky winger’s ability to stretch the game.
Daniel Parejo’s playmaking ability in midfield cannot be overlooked, averaging 7.8 long balls a game, highlighting his ability to hit the spaces left in behind the opposition backline. Although Tomori and Zouma do have the pace to cover this, Chelsea will need to be cautious with a high line, as Valencia have shown their counter-attacking prowess time after time this season.
A tight affair could be on the card once again, with both sides desperate not to lose in such a closely packed group, so where does that leave the betting?
With an injury crises sweeping through Valencia, and a less than convincing backline, it is hard to get excited about their chances, even at home. In the first meeting, Chelsea dominated and should’ve won on the night, and it is hard to see past Lampard’s side in Spain. Priced at 11/10 (Bet365), I’d be backing the Blues. I am expecting a cagey affair once again, and priced at 23/10 (Boylesports), Chelsea and Under 3.5 carries a little extra, but 11/10 represents a good enough price to take Chelsea at.
Although Chelsea will look to overrun Valencia centrally, their best way to get in behind Valencia may be through utilising the overloads out wide, and with the Blues expected to dominate, expect to see them rack up a number of corners. Available at 19/20, Chelsea -0.5 on the Asian Handicap Corner market takes appeal, as they’ll be looking to dominate for long periods against the Spaniards, whilst their tactical approach should see them add up.