Chelsea fell to a 1-0 defeat against Valencia in their opening game of the 2019/20 Champions League, with Rodrigo's 74th minute strike enough to clinch all three points for the Spaniards.
It was a night that left several questions looming in the air for Frank Lampard, with an avoidable defensive lapse costing them dearly alongside Ross Barkley's penalty miss while a bold substitution to replace Kurt Zouma with Olivier Giroud visibly weakened the Blues defensive rearguard. The result leaves Chelsea in a precarious position despite only playing one game thus far, given the competitive nature of Group H.
As for Valencia, they produced a united front in the wake of the controversial decision by Peter Lim, the club's owner, to sack Marcelino Garcia Toral last week. Getting stuck in with meaty tackles right from the off, they delivered a resolute away performance of the calibre necessary at such an esteemed level.
Chelsea full of verve in the early stages but failure to pull the trigger cost them
The opening twenty minutes of the contest were dictated by Lampard's side, who showed ingenuity and exuberance across the park, harrying Valencia high up the pitch and forcing them into mistakes. In doing so, they retained control of the game's tempo, utilising the creative eye of in-form Mason Mount and the flexibility of Willian, who popped up on both flanks, surging at the heart of the Spanish side.
The Brazilian combined well with Cesar Azpilicueta throughout the first-half, bringing about an early chance as the right-back's drilled cross found the feet of Tammy Abraham. However, the in-form striker's flick was thwarted by Jasper Cillessen, cannoning off the post and out for a corner.
Willian was arguably Chelsea's best player on the night, weaving in and out of the midfield, collecting possession from deep before making to look things happen after the drop off in creativity suffered by Mason Mount's early exit inside the opening 15 minutes through injury.
It was a half of missed opportunities for the Blues, as Willian saw his shot from outside the box cut out before latching on to a pinpoint diagonal ball from Kovacic only to send his volley high and wide. Elsewhere, Abraham saw a header glance wide while Jorginho's shot on the edge of the area was well charged down.
Valencia resurgence and second-half surge
Valencia grew into the game after a shaky start, getting to grips with Chelsea's high intensity press and forming triangles to play through it with a series of bold forward passes. Geoffrey Kondogbia and Daniel Parejo were particularly impressive, with the former battling well in the centre circle before passing it off to the more creative forces. Parejo acted as the link man between midfield and attack, supplying Rodrigo, whose willingness to run in behind made him a handful for the Chelsea defence.
Indeed, the combination of Parejo and Rodrigo delivered their first big chance of the match as Valencia found some room to manoeuvre in midfield. However, Rodrigo's goal bound effort cannoned off Kevin Gameiro, who was lurking for the rebound but inadvertently helped guide the danger away from Kepa Arrizabalaga’s goal.
The second-half saw Valencia go from strength to strength, picking off the vulnerabilities in Lampard's midfield, which continued to miss the authoritative figure of N'Golo Kante. Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho were played through at will via a series of quick fire one-two's, enabling the Spanish outfit to get a foothold on the contest.
Rodrigo's exuberant running would hold key to their creativity, with the forward dropping deep between the lines before firing a through ball into Gameiro's path to beat the offside trap. Tomori, who impressed at Stamford Bridge, sprinted back brilliantly to stifle the chance, but it was a sign of the away side's growing confidence.
As Chelsea faded, creating only one good chance through Marcos Alonso's 20-yard free-kick, Valencia capitalised on growing unease. Lampard's decision to take off Zouma for Giroud exposed his side's defensive frailties, with Valencia making full use of a free-kick down the left-hand side.
While many expected a routine cross into the box, Parejo was the orchestrator, showcasing his awareness by spotting Rodrigo's peeling. One prod of the ball later and the visitors had got themselves ahead. Remarkably, it was their first shot on target of the match.
Ross Barkley misses from the spot leaving Lampard with plenty to ponder
Chelsea threw the kitchen sink at Valencia thereafter but were at fault for attempting to walk the ball into the back of the net rather than pull the trigger when the opportunity arose. Willian in particular let all his hard work come to nothing, darting past a flurry of defenders before taking too many touches instead of firing at goal. As such, Cillisen wasn't as busy as he otherwise should've been, with Giroud's pivot and shot failing to test the former-Barcelona goalkeeper.
It looked for all the world as though Lampard's side would be thrown a lifeline when Daniel Wass was adjudged to have handled Tomori's header by Cuneyt Cakir after an interlude to consult VAR.
Winning his debate with Willian and Jorginho, Barkley was the surprise taker for Chelsea, regarded as the first in line by Lampard after coming on as a substitute. It was a decision that will raise several questions, particularly given the current form of Abraham and the ruthless finishing of Olivier Giroud. Indeed, the Englishman's effort blasted over the bar, leaving Chelsea in a predicament ahead of next month's trips to Ajax and Lille.