Daley Blind

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Pulisic on Chelsea’s wild draw v. Ajax; UCL hopes

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USMNT star Christian Pulisic put in another stellar display for Chelsea as they fought back to draw 4-4 after being 4-1 down at home against Ajax in the UEFA Champions League.

With Chelsea losing 4-2 in the second half, Ajax had two players (Daley Blind and Joel Veltman) sent off and conceded a penalty all in the same play.

Pulisic won a penalty kick early on which Jorginho converted and he was a constant threat throughout as he continues his great form in recent weeks.

The Blues ended up securing a crucial draw as they aim to reach the last 16 of the Champions League, and thought they had won it but Cesar Azpilicueta’s second goal was ruled out by VAR due to handball.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Pulisic revealed that even when they were 3-1 down at half time Chelsea’s players believed they could win the game.

“We are a confident bunch of guys. Even at half time we said to each other ‘we are going to win this game, we are coming back and we can do this’ and we always have to believe,” Pulisic said. “The whole thing was crazy. I didn’t even realize they got two red cards! It was pretty wild. Definitely a night to remember, but we still wanted the three points.”

Frank Lampard‘s side sit top of Group H but are on seven points, level with Ajax and Valencia. Their next game is a trip to Valencia in a pivotal clash at the Mestalla, as they end the group stage by playing bottom club Lille at home.

“This makes our next game even more important. We are still at the top of the group and we just need to win the next game. I think we are looking really good,” Pulisic added. “Today just showed the spirit of this team. We are never going to give up. We obviously have a lot of talent but that was more about the fight and will to come back.”

Pulisic’s own comeback has been impressive in recent weeks, as he’s scored four times in his last two Premier League appearances (his first Chelsea goals) and has also made a huge difference as they picked up four points over two games against Ajax.

The 21-year-old continues to cut in from the flank to use his devastating pace and creativity and after a month or so on the bench, he’s now one of the first names on Lampard’s teamsheet.

What a comeback for Chelsea against Ajax, and for Pulisic in general.

Chelsea storm back for 4-4 draw with Ajax (video)

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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.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

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.


Three things

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.

Report: Sergino Dest leaning towards Netherlands if they want him

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According to a report by Roger Gonzalez of CBS Sports, a person close to 18-year-old dual national full-back Sergino Dest says that he is leaning towards committing to the Netherlands over the United States and will choose to represent the Dutch national team if he feels there is room for him in the depth chart.

Dest has not officially announced a decision but Gonzalez reported a few days ago that he is nearing a decision, and reports from the Netherlands indicate that decision could come as soon as today.

Gonzalez’s latest report states that Dest will only choose to represent the United States at the senior level if he does not feel there is a chance he would be called up regularly to the Oranje.

While the Dutch side is absolutely stacked in central defense with the likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt, Stefan de Vrij, Nathan Ake, and more, they are far more thin at the full-back position. The country’s most recent competitive match – a Euro 2020 qualifier against Belarus – featured a pair of Dest’s Ajax teammates starting with Daley Blind on the left and Joel Veltman on the right, while Crystal Palace full-back Patrick Van Aanholt and PSV breakout star Denzel Dumfries were available on the bench.

Both Veltman and Blind are extremely versatile players who could easily slide elsewhere to make room for Dest. Blind in particular can play center-back and central midfield in addition to his aptitude out wide –  in fact he hasn’t played full-back at the club level once this campaign, mostly deployed in central defense with a few appearances further up the pitch. The two have often partnered in central defense for Ajax this season.

Outside of those four first-choice full-backs, the Netherlands has just Atalanta’s Hans Hateboer and Lyon’s Kenny Tate waiting in the wings at that position. Otherwise, the slots are wide open.

Dest has proficiency on either side, but prefers the right where he has seen action in nine of Ajax’s 11 Eredivisie matches this season and has logged full 90-minute performances in all three of their Champions League group stage matches.

The teen was born in the Netherlands to an American father, leaving him with a choice to make at the national team level. Dest represented the United States at the youth level and made two appearances for the senior squad, but as both matches were friendlies, he was not cap-tied to the nation. Dest recently refused call-ups to both the United States and Netherlands in the last international break, avoiding a competitive appearance for either side wanting more time to make his decision.

Chelsea grab huge win late on at Ajax

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Chelsea beat Ajax 1-0 in Amsterdam on Wednesday, as substitute Michy Batshuayi scored the winner off a Christian Pulisic assist.

[ MORE: How did Pulisic perform? ]

Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea now sit top in Group H, leapfrogging Ajax. The hosts hit the post in the second half and were the better team for vast swathes of the game and until Pulisic and Batshuayi came off the bench to cause havoc late on in the Johan Cruyff Arena.

The UEFA Champions League semifinalists from last season had now answer to a mature Chelsea display, as the Blues’ attacking options off the bench made the difference in their sixth-straight win in all competitions.

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Ajax started well with and had a penalty shout for handball waved away, then Joel Veltman drilled a shot just wide.

In an end-to-end encounter Mason Mount cut inside but his shot at the near post was saved as the Blues looked dangerous on the counter.

After a poor defensive clearance the ball fell to Hudson-Odoi but he hurried his shot and wasted a glorious chance.

Ajax thought they had taken the lead before half time as Hakim Ziyech’s cross deflected to the back post where Quincy Promes tapped home. After a delay via VAR, the goal was disallowed as Promes was just, just offside.

Promes was in again moments later after good work from USMNT right back Sergino Dest but Cesar Azpilicueta recovered well to block his effort.

In the second half Dusan Tadic was a growing force in the game as Chelsea were pinned back by Ajax.

Edson Alvarez hit the far post with a superb diving header from a corner and moments later Daley Blind forced Kepa into a save.

Christian Pulisic came on for Willian for the final stages as Chelsea tried to regain control of the game and that is what he did for them.

Pulisic cut in from the left time and time against Ajax, getting past Dest to send a shot just wide and a deflected effort then fell to Batshuayi who sent his effort way off target from a glorious position.

But Pulisic then set up the winning goal as he beat Dest on the dribbled and pulled it back for Batshuayi to hammer home the winner as the subs combined to secure a sixth-straight win in all competitions for Lampard, and his biggest yet as Chelsea’s manager.

In USMNT camp, Ajax’s Dest won’t commit beyond this month

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Sergino Dest is with the United States men’s national team this September camp, but that doesn’t mean he will be cap-tying himself to the program in one month.

And that’s regardless of whether Gregg Berhalter plans to call him up and play him.

[ MORE: Man City looks to transfer market ]

The 18-year-old Ajax back is also eligible to represent the Netherlands, and an October call-up and appearance in the CONCACAF Nations League would cap-tie Dest to the USMNT program.

Dest has represented the U.S. at the U-20 and U-17 levels and cap-tying him is absolutely a priority, but the player has a rising reputation in Holland and may want to see if he can swim to the top of a wide defender pool which includes in-prime players like Terrence Kongolo, older players like Daley Blind, Daryl Janmaat, and Patrick Van Aanholt as well as young prospects Denzel Dumfries (PSV) and Kenny Tete (Lyon).

He said he was surprised to be called up to the national team, which is a bit stunning. I mean, he’s one of the top prospects in the program and a dual national: Berhalter better be calling him.

Losing Dest would be one of the top dual national losses in recent memory, including Neven Subotic and Giuseppe Rossi, and it would combine with Jonathan Gonzalez’s choice of Mexico over the U.S. to multiply the ripples in the U.S. pool.

Here’s American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta with the full quotes: