Wow. What on earth have I just had the pleasure and pain of witnessing on Tuesday night.
It really was one of greatest games I’ve been fortunate enough to see in the flesh. The game simply had a little bit of everything and more than lived up to expectations. In a poll we ran before the game, asking Twitter users to predict the score, it was interesting to see voters split 50/50 down the middle. So it really was quite fitting that the game ended in a draw overall, although it so easily could’ve belonged to either side!
The game itself had a really strange feel to it I must say. As a result of fan trouble in Valencia, Ajax were completely stripped of their already reduced ticket allocation of 800 people. I found the whole situation slightly ridiculous from UEFA but not exactly surprising, the organisations that run all of these fantastic competitions are generally pretty clueless and out of touch with modern fans. With Amsterdam being so close and easily accessible to London, thousands of fans still travelled and so security on the night was meant to be pretty tight to try and stop a huge influx of travelling fans sitting in Chelsea seats.
Frank Lampard himself “can’t even describe the game.” But I’m going to have a go!
The game really did get off to the worst possible start with Ajax scoring after just two minutes. Fans were left understandably frustrated at this because there was a completely lack of awareness from the defence and set a precedent for the night. Thankfully, this frustration was relatively short-lived after some good dribbling from Christian Pulisic led to him being brought down in the box. Jorginho, as cool as ever, left Onana with no chance of stopping his penalty and the scores were level. Tammy Abraham then made the score 2-1, before his goal was removed for offside. It was a well taken goal in spite of this!
20 minutes in, Chelsea were again pegged back by Ajax and a wicked ball across the box was met by Quincy Promes at the back post. Once again, Kepa stood absolutely no chance of stopping this and I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. The fun didn’t stop there for Ajax though, a truly unbelievable free-kick from Ziyech flew into the post and rebounded back onto Kepa’s head and into the back of the net. It was a moment which did expose one of Kepa’s quite literal shortcomings as a keeper and he couldn’t get his hands near it. Courtois, despite his flaws as a person, was notoriously good at dealing with free-kicks and corners and I would like to see Kepa work on this area of his game. I have to confess, I wasn’t actually aware of what had happened at the time. Of all the ways to concede, the ball bouncing off Kepa’s head had to be one of the funniest…
At half-time the frustration of fans was blindingly obvious. In what was such a huge game for us, the players hadn’t really stepped up the mark. Where were the leaders in the squad?
I continued to ask myself, and anyone else around me who cared to listen, as Ajax bagged their fourth goal of the night through Donny van de Beek. Chelsea hadn’t even played that badly, Ajax had just been completely ruthless.
Then came a completely insane 10 minutes.
I’m not sure whether he heard my calls, but Azpilicueta stepped up when we really needed him, converting a Tammy Abraham cross-cum-shot at the back post to kickstart our comeback. Next, a Hudson-Odoi shot hit the arm of Ajax’s Veltman. The referee immediately signalled for a penalty. In the lead up to this Daley Blind had made a lunging tackle and upon awarding the spot-kick, referee Gianluca Rochi gave both Blind and Veltman second yellow cards. Ajax were left with just nine men on the pitch.
There was never even any doubt about whether Jorginho would convert the penalty. The keeper barely stood a chance of even diving the right way and just like that it was 4-3. Reece James became the unlikely hero to level the score, and brilliantly finished his goal into the bottom corner leaving Onana unable to get anywhere near it.
The game almost had the perfect ending, César Azpilicueta put the ball into the net with a tidy volley but VAR ruled it out for handball. A number of chances came for both Tammy and Batshuayi but Chelsea were unable to make Ajax pay the ultimate price for being two men down. It has to be said, despite their numerical disadvantage, Ajax continued to play excellent football and called Kepa into action towards the end of the game to keep the scores level.
Something which has caused a lot of frustration amongst Chelsea fans in the aftermath of this game is the use of stoppage time. Despite the two red cards, four goals and six substitutions as well as VAR break, only four minutes of added time were given. The referee didn’t even choose to use all of these and blew the whistle at 3:54 which I just cannot understand. Could it possibly be time to implement a similar timing system to the one used in rugby, whereby the clock is stopped instead of adding these useless minutes on at the end?
Just what a guy. The impact he has had on the team this season is nothing short of insane, he is quite literally the beating heart of everything we’re accomplishing this year. This was certainly one of his better performances for Chelsea and to take and score two penalties in a game of this magnitude tells you everything you need to know about this man. It’s great to see fans giving him the respect he truly deserves this season.
The Fifth Goal
I’m not fully sure what to make of Azpilicueta’s disallowed goal. The ball really did barely brush his arm and had also hit the arm of an Ajax player just before. So quite why only Chelsea were penalised for this I don’t understand. Furthermore, the referee’s check on the pitch-side VAR monitor was extremely brief so did he really have the resources available to make a complete decision?
It’s still so frustrating to think back to that Ross Barkley missed penalty against Valencia. As a direct result of that, three teams now sit on seven points when Chelsea should really have eight. The game at the Mestalla on the 27th of November will be huge, and victory should send Chelsea through into the knockouts. Whilst it was slightly frustrating not to end up with all three points last night., we were ultimately 4-1 down at one point and so the result is really nothing to be looked down on. This is only the third time this has happened in the Champions League, and the first since Liverpool in Instanbul in 2005.
Despite being so young, it says a lot about these players mentalities that they were able to bounce back as they did despite the odds being heavily against them. I think we’ve got another squad of born winners.