BY PAUL LAGAN at Stamford Bridge
The craziest Champions League match Stamford Bridge has even witnessed served up eight goals as Chelsea came from 4-1 down to salvage a point against nine-man Ajax tonight as the sides shared a 4-4 thriller.
There were chances for either team to win it at the end – in fact, Cesar Azpilicueta thought he had scored the fifth but was judged by VAR to have handled before crashing home the ball. But this sensational encounter did not deserve to see a loser.
To say the Blues were overwhelmed by the Dutch outfit in the first half is not to give the visitors the credit they deserved – but the home side were also terrible.
That Chelsea put them to the sword in the second half and took advantage when a double sending-off reduced Ajax to nine men should not detract from a comeback that will live long in the memory banks of the supporters lucky enough to have been in the stadium.
A mad opening three minutes saw two goals, one for each side. First up Tammy Abraham deflected a Quincy Promes, wide free-kick into his own net and then seconds later, the Blues pushed forward, the ball falling to Christian Pulisic who was hauled down by Noussair Mazraoui. Up stepped Jorginho to slot home the spot kick, sending Andre Onana the wrong way in the process.
Abraham had the ball in the back of the net on 14 minutes, but drifted offside before smashing the ball past Onana.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to restore their lead when Promes got behind Cesar Azpilicueta and nod home from six yards out as David Neres’s in-swinging right wing cross caught the Chelsea defence napping. Kepa stayed on his line as the ball came in, when perhaps he should have taken control of the situation.
Bizarrely the Dutch outfit increased their lead when, on 35 minutes, Hakim Ziyech took a left-footed free-kick by the right corner flag. The ball arrowed over Kepa’s head, smacked his far post and the ball bounced off the Spain keeper’s face into his own net.
Head coach Frank Lampard decided Alonso’s first half display deserved to see the left back replaced. On came right back Reece James, with Azpilicueta taking the left-back berth.
There was more energy by the west Londoners in the opening phase of the half.
A weak Abraham header from a Azpilicueta cross on 51 minutes and an excellent save by Onana from the striker two minutes later, signalled Chelsea’s desire to get back into the game.
But within seconds Ajax had hit number four and all seemed lost for the west Londoners.
A quick break wasn’t dealt with and the visitors, seemingly outnumbered Chelsea, allowing Donny Van de Beek to ram the ball home past Kepa from eight yards out.
Skipper Azpilicueta was the man on the spot to tap home on 62 minutes to give the Blues a lifeline. Pulisic’s byline cross was tapped on by Abraham and defender was unchallenged at the far post. VAR had a look at the goal, and decided that he was not offside when the ball was knocked onto him.
Mayhem ensured on 68 minutes when Italian Gianluca Rocchi awarded a penalty for hand ball to the Blues and sent off two Ajax players – Daley Blind for a double savage attack on Pulisic and Abraham and Joel Veltman.
After all of that, Jorginho then stepped up score his second penalty of the night to bring the Blues back to single goal deficit.
The madness just got madder on 74 minutes when Abraham thumped the Ajax crossbar from a Willian corner – the rebound fell to James who smashed home the equaliser much to the delirious delight of the hime fans.
Chelsea thought they had taken a 5-4 lead a minute later when Azpilicueta rammed home the ball past Onana but VAR intervened and Rocchi took a look on the monitor and adjudged Azpilicueta had controlled the ball with his hand before firing home.
Substitute Edson Alvarez forced Kepa into a fine save, showing that the nine men were still a danger.
Lampard brought on striker Michy Batshuayi for Kovacic with six minutes left on the clock.
Onana thwarted Batshuayi’s turn and shot.
The visitors dig deep, the Blues ran out of puff and when the referee blew his whistle, the visitors hugged each other knowing they got away with a point that puts them top of the group, while the Blues players slumped to the ground, again knowing they got away with it, but also could have won it.
Teams: Chelsea, Kepa, Alonso, Jorginho, Abraham, Willian, Zouma, Kovacic, Mount, Pulisic, Azpilicueta, Tomori
Caballero, Christensen, Kante, Hudson-Odoi, Batshuayi, James, Gilmour
Ajax; Onana, Veltman, Van De Beek, Neres, Tadic, Promes, Mazraoui, Blind, Martinez, Ziyech, Tagliafico
Subs, Varela, Schuurs, Alvarez, Huntelaar, De Jong, Marin, dest
Referee Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)