VALENCIA, Spain, September 29 – Frank Lampard proved his worth to Chelsea on Wednesday with a goal in their Champions League Group E clash with Valencia, but a late Roberto Soldado penalty earned the hosts a 1-1 draw.
The build-up to the game had focused on the diminishing role that Lampard is having in the Chelsea team under Andre Villas-Boas, with the England midfielder having played in only one of his side’s previous four games.
In the pre-match press conference Villas-Boas angrily replied to a barrage of questions by insisting that Lampard does have a future at the club and he underlined the point by including him in the starting line-up.
Lampard had a quiet game but crucially found the back of the net on 56 minutes after the ball was played back to him inside the box by Florent Malouda.
The game opened up in the final stages and Soldado converted a penalty three minutes from time following a handball by substitute Salomon Kalou.
“It was a solid performance,” said Villas-Boas.
“After the break we came out strongly and had good chances to make it 2-0 but we couldn’t hit the back of the net. It was unlucky and then they scored and got a draw.
“It was a good performance from Lampard and there is nothing more to say. He is one of the best players in our squad and I was very happy with him. The team worked well collectively and individually and so I was very happy.
“It was a good time for him to score. He has always been a good goal scorer. We trust in him a 100 per cent and he found the back of the net.”
After just two minutes a sloppy back pass from David Albelda put Fernando Torres clear but Rami got back to nudge him off the ball, and moments later confusion in the Valencia backline saw Rami put the ball just past his goal.
Gradually Valencia began to find their composure but even so the Chelsea midfield was finding it relatively easy to cut through their defence.
Victor Ruiz was forced into upending Ramires as he was about to burst into the penalty area and was booked.
Valencia offered little attacking inclination and their forays forward came mainly down the wings through full-backs Jeremy Mathieu and Miguel.
Valencia did go close to breaking the deadlock though when Pablo Hernandez flicked a Mathieu cross just past the near post ten minutes before half time.
Chelsea raised the tempo after the break and for a while it was ‘keeper Diego Alves who kept the home side in the game until Lampard scored.
He denied Torres twice as well as Ramires with excellent blocks before Lampard was left unmarked to slot home.
Chelsea appeared to have the game under control with Soldado, who has had a strong start to the season, an isolated figure in attack, but Valencia belatedly responded.
Soldado rounded Petr Cech but there was nobody to meet his knock back and it was the introduction of Pablo Piatti that really lifted Valencia’s rhythm.
The Argentine went close to an equaliser with a shot that Cech tipped over the cross bar and Cech also denied Jonas.
However, from the resulting corner Kalou, who had only been on the pitch for four minutes, handled and Soldado coolly sent the ‘keeper the wrong way.
At the end of the game the Chelsea players angrily confronted the referee over the penalty decision and Ashley Cole was given a yellow card.
Chelsea are now clear at the top of the group on four points, while Valencia sit on two, one behind Bayer Leverkusen, who they face next in Germany.