Chelsea were late to their own UEFA Champions League party with Ajax on Tuesday, helplessly headed for outright embarrassment by an irresistible side on their own field before busting the door down and turning it into Party of the Year at Stamford Bridge.
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Frank Lampard‘s Blues conceded an own goal in under two minutes before drawing level just two minutes later. Ajax went 2-1 and 3-1 ahead on a pair of sensational goals — the kind we’ve come to expect from the young side, even if one technically went down as an own goal — before halftime. Another superb goal from Donny van de Beek made it 4-1, and the game appeared to be done and dusted.
The game was turned on its head in the 68th minute, not long after Cesar Azpilicueta pulled Chelsea back to 4-2. Daley Blind was shown a second yellow for a challenge on Tammy Abraham. Joel Veltman was then shown a second yellow of his own for a handball in the box, a play which occurred just seconds after the referee played advantage on Blind’s infraction.
Jorginho converted his second penalty kick of the game to make it 4-3. 19-year-old Reece James hammered the ball through a sea of bodies to make it 4-4 in the 74th minute, and Azpilicueta thought he’d won it four minutes later, only to have the goal taken away by video review for a handball by Abraham.
1. Chelsea make it far too easy: Under no circumstances should a cross ever be allowed to bounce inside the penalty area before it’s met by an attacking or defending player. It is the responsibility of the defending team to ensure that is the case, and Chelsea failed to do so when Ajax took the lead for the second (and final) time in the 20th minute.
The amount of space enjoyed by everyone — from the crosser, Ziyech, to the finisher, Van de Beek — should leave every defender in a blue shirt downright embarrassed for their lack of positional awareness and effort.
2. Sometimes brilliance can’t be stopped: Of course, it matters very little how easy you make things when Ziyech is capable of beating you at any time, from anywhere, with something truly spectacular, like this…
3. Pulisic a driving force throughout: Christian Pulisic, played in a central role behind Abraham, was beyond impressive in this game. In truth, he was Chelsea’s best player. On a night that saw most of his teammates fail to impress whatsoever, Pulisic was decisive and dangerous throughout. The 21-year-old American won Chelsea’s early penalty, had a would-be assist spoiled by an offside call and another robbed when Azpilicueta poached a goal from Abraham, set up by Pulisic, that was already going in. That makes three strong outings in his last three starts, and Pulisic has made a strong case for further inclusion in Lampard’s team. Notably, Mason Mount left Tuesday’s game with an injury and could be out for some time.
Man of the match: Hakim Ziyech
The result sees Chelsea and Ajax remain first and second in Group H, as they began the day, only now third-place Valencia sits level with both of them on seven points after thrashing Lille in the group’s other game. With two games left to play, there are two knockout places still very much up for grabs.