A gripping conclusion saw victory slip from Chelsea's hands. The leveller from the penalty spot by Valencia in the 87th minute was a particularly discordant note for the visiting manager, André Villas-Boas. He must have felt in command when he took off Frank Lampard, the Chelsea goalscorer, a few minutes before. As he left the pitch the 33-year-old could have been happy with a display that temporarily silenced those who deem him too aged to be an all‑purpose midfielder.
There is always a risk that a club caught up in its tale forgets the opposition are striving to write their own drama. This story culminated in the award of a penalty when Salomon Kalou chose to handle at a corner-kick. Roberto Soldado converted it without fuss in the 87th minute. There was to be scant composure anywhere else. Chelsea had Juan Mata and Ashley Cole booked at full-time for haranguing of the Italian referee, Nicola Rizzoli, with no justification.
Even so, the visitors had gathered themselves for a moment or two after the penalty and the Valencia goalkeeper, Diego Alves, had needed to pull off an impressive save when the substitute Nicolas Anelka looked set to reinstate a Chelsea lead. When lapses have been analysed and the inconvenience of the cautions noted, Villas-Boas may still come to the conclusion that this was not so bad an outcome in an arena that ultimately thrilled to the realisation that there were echoes in this game of former times.
The current players at the Spanish club could have felt as if they were tapping into a heritage. Valencia were Champions League finalists in 2000 and 2001. All the same, the early exchanges were misleading here since Chelsea had a briskness that suggested they would gain total command.
Fernando Torres was put in a promising situation, after David Albelda had lost the ball in the fourth minute, but his control was poor and the centre‑half Adil Rami was able to relieve the danger with a robust challenge. Some deemed it a penalty, but Chelsea did not seem concerned by the judgment made by the referee.
There did appear then to be grounds for patience and optimism even if Villas‑Boas's team were not always incisive. Valencia, for their part, took heart and had surges of confidence. In truth, neither the wealth of history nor an abundance of fans has stopped them from losing ground on Barcelona and Real Madrid. The real relationship between clubs of differing means is demonstrated in the marketplace, where Chelsea bought Mata from Valencia for £23.5m in the summer.
Perhaps the visitors thought they could impose their supposedly superior skills in this sort of game. This was only David Luiz's third outing of the season for Chelsea and while injury accounts for that to some extent there may almost be a sense that he is better-suited to the sort of fixtures that crop up in the Champions League. Two of his appearances have been in this competition.
Nothing came to fulfilment in the first half for him or anyone else. Villas-Boas may have felt that he had greater work to do at the interval than his opposite number, Unai Emery.
Apart from anything else, Chelsea were beginning to show signs of being pinned down and that, for instance, meant there were few moments when, say, Cole and Florent Malouda could take the play to Valencia on the flank.
The debate about Lampard's contribution now that he is 33 might, to his relief, have been regarded as a secondary topic while the side as a whole was unable to impose its will.
The situation was to be transformed during a vehement spell. After 57 minutes Lampard drilled Malouda's low pass from the right into the corner of the net. By then, such a moment had been anticipated. There was too much incident for there to be no consequence. Villas-Boas had, in particular, coaxed a more insistent authority out of his men.
It was thwarted, though, by the sort of moment that had seen Torres denied by the goalkeeper at point-blank range in the 52nd minute. Regardless of the stream of incident that the match held there was still just that one goal. Nerves twanged and when Petr Cech was left stranded on the edge of his area John Terry had to deal with a cross from the right.
This was not the sort of contemplative football sometimes encountered in this tournament. Valencia were full of purpose even if it did not seem to be making a sufficient mark until the closing exchanges. Chelsea, for their part, were eventually forced into protecting their lead and, as Kalou showed, could not do so with the necessary calm.