Christian Pulisic’s sixth goal in his last seven games and a spectacular penalty save from Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga nearly gave the Blues a memorable UEFA Champions League group stage win Wednesday at Valencia.
Instead, a hopeful cross from Daniel Wass beat Arrizabalaga and forced Chelsea to settle for a 2-2 draw, — probably a fair result after the hosts squandered several golden scoring chances, including Rodrigo’s point-blank miss deep into stoppage time. Still, the lone point means that the English Premier League titan need a result against French club Lille next month to guarantee passage to the knockout stage.
Pulisic’s strike came five minutes after halftime, and it stood up following video review for a possible offside:
It sure looked like it would be cancelled out a quarter-hour later, though, but Kepa dove to his right to parry away Daniel Parejo effort from the spot. The sequence was a microcosm of the entire match.
In a supremely entertaining back-and-forth affair at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium, the visitors struck first. The hosts first goal had been coming; in addition to the late miss, they also blew two clear chances to open the scoring in the first half, including another highlight-worthy miss by striker Maxi Gomez.
Valencia finally converted five minutes before halftime courtesy of winger Carlos Soler, who was just able to overpower Arrizabalaga from the front porch:
Chelsea had had opportunities of their own, too, none better than Willian’s header over the bar early on. (The Brazilian would also miss another sitter later.) But the Blues responded to Soler’s strike immediately, however, with Mateo Kovacic netting his first for the club in his 71th appearance on a tricky shot that wrong-footed Valencia keeper Jasper Cillessen and rolled just inside the near post:
Kovacic nets his first goal for Chelsea 🔵 pic.twitter.com/nregbHPFD2— Bleacher Report Live (@brlive) November 27, 2019
Kovacic nearly put the visitors ahead before the break, too. Pulisic — who made his seventh consecutive start for Frank Lampard’s side — served the ball on a platter for the defensive midfielder after a surging run though the midfield. This time, Cillessen — who was flawless for the rest of the match — was able to produce the stop.
It was a more than respectable first half for Chelsea, but it didn’t come without cost. Just before the teams headed to their dressing rooms, Blues striker Tammy Abraham had to be helped off the field after suffering what appeared to be a lower-body injury.
If Chelsea missed Lampard’s first-choice forward, it didn’t show. Pulisic’s goal came just five minutes after the intermission, and the visitors kept the pressure on Valencia, counterattacking at every opportunity with Michy Batshuayi leading the line in Abraham’s absence.
The third goal never came, though. And when Wass somehow managed to mishit his service from the right wing over Kepa and off the post and in, a share of the spoils was always going to the be the likeliest outcome:
Ajax Amsterdam leads Group H and will host Valencia on the final match day while Chelsea welcomes Lille to London. Blues fans have to like their team’s chances, even if they might not want to take anything for granted after one of the most unpredictable and emotionally draining Champions League matches we’ve seen all season.