The top two in our Champions League group go head to head tonight. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview potential fireworks between two of the most exciting young sides in Europe…
The halfway mark is about to be passed in the Champions League group stage on Bonfire Night, and the hopes of some sides could go up in smoke. This is only the second Group H match at Stamford Bridge, and the aim is to pocket the first home points of the campaign.
The initial bout in these back-to-back group games in Amsterdam was of course decided by substitute Michy Batshuayi’s emphatic late strike. There will be still be six points to play for after tonight, so no team can secure a knockout stage place for now.
Defeat for either side could still prove costly, not least because head-to-head results may determine the final rankings in the case of clubs level on points. Ajax appear above Chelsea in UEFA’s official table only because tied teams are listed in alphabetical order until after the sixth match.
The Blues will set out to end the visitors’ run of five successive away wins in the Champions League (excluding qualifiers), with history largely in our favour. Prior to last year’s semi-final success at Tottenham, Ajax had won once on English soil in 47 years.
The Londoners are unbeaten in five previous games against their fellow countrymen (three wins, two draws, against Ajax, Feyenoord, and DWS Amsterdam) since 1968.
Frank Lampard used a three-man midfield in Amsterdam of Mason Mount, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovacic against Edson Alvarez and Lisandro Martinez for the hosts. His squad has since been boosted by the return of Emerson on Saturday, and the availability of Ross Barkley, Andreas Christensen, and N’Golo Kante this evening.
Ajax, though, saw three players leave the PEC Zwolle match injured: Donny van de Beek (hamstring), Alvarez, and Martinez (both knocks).
Ajax assisted by KNVB
It is a tight turnaround from Watford on Saturday night to 8pm this evening for Frank Lampard’s side but, unlike many European associations, appeals by English clubs for flexibility on fixtures ahead of UEFA (or FIFA) engagements fall on deaf ears.
Last season, when tonight’s visitors faced a Champions League semi-final against Tottenham, their governing body, the KNVB, allowed them to delay an Eredivisie match until later in the season. Last weekend, their trip to PEC Zwolle was brought forward to Friday, handing Ajax an extra day’s rest and preparation compared to the Blues.
As it happened, the home side almost completed a comeback from 0-3 down after 20 minutes to 3-3, but their equalising goal was ruled out for offside, and the relieved league leaders eventually ran out 4-2 victors.
Early strikes for the Blues
The pass of the season (according to several analysts) from Jorginho to Tammy Abraham at Watford helped reinforce the feeling the young Blues are a team in a hurry.
Abraham’s opener was the fourth he has netted in the opening 20 minutes of a game, and the seventh by the squad this season. In first halves away from home in all competitions, the Blues’ tally is now 16 goals for, seven against.
After his winner at Vicarage Road, Christian Pulisic has hit the net four times in two matches and, thanks to five assists, has now had a hand in nine goals over 12 appearances for the Blues.
Eight of the goals Captain America has contributed towards have come away from Stamford Bridge, and the Blues have managed an average of 1.6 points at home in the Premier League, but 2.5 on our travels, (second only to leaders Liverpool). Ajax have averaged three Eredivisie points at the Johan Cruyff Arena, and 2.43 on the road.
New club record
Chelsea also set a new milestone at the weekend: a club record seventh successive away win across all competitions while in the top flight.
We managed seven successive wins on our travels across all competitions from February to April 1989 in Division Two.
Seven away wins 201924 Aug 2019 Norwich 3-2 Premier League14 Sep 2019 Wolves 5-2 Premier League2 Oct 2019 Lille 2-1 Champions League6 Oct 2019 Southampton 4-1 Premier League23 Oct 2019 Ajax 1-0 Champions League26 Oct 2019 Burnley 4-2 Premier League2 Nov 2019 Watford 2-1 Premier League
Seven away wins 19894 Feb 1989 Walsall 7-0 Division Two18 Feb 1989 Plymouth 1-0 Division Two15 Mar 1989 Brighton 1-0 Division Two18 Mar 1989 Man City 3-2 Division Two21 Mar 1989 Sunderland 2-1 Division Two28 Mar 1989 Ipswich 1-0 Division Two8 Apr 1989 West Brom 3-2 Division Two
The Blues also still hold the Premier League record for successive away wins with 11, set between April and December 2008, and equalled by Manchester City in 2017.
Elsewhere in Group H, Valencia will have as many as seven players missing through injury or suspension when they play host to Lille. The two sides drew 1-1 in France last time out.
2016 UEFA Youth League revisited
The Under-19s of Chelsea and Ajax met for a one-off UEFA Youth League quarter-final at Cobham on 15 March 2016, and some of the same youngsters were involved in the exhibition of top Champions League football at the Johan Cruyff Arena two weeks ago. The Blues won 1-0 through Kyle Scott, and went on to retain the trophy.
In Adi Viveash’s team three years ago were current first-teamers Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham. In the Netherlanders’ ranks were Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek, and Carel Eiting.
At their first meeting in 1961, newly-appointed player-coach Tommy Docherty was told by Chelsea manager Ted Drake: ‘I don’t want you here. You weren’t my choice. I wanted Vic Buckingham.’
Buckingham was in charge of Ajax at the time but looking for a move. He spent three years at Sheffield Wednesday before returning for a second spell at the De Meer stadium between 1964 and 1965.
The Doc succeeded Drake, the Blues’ first title-winning boss, a few months later and ushered in a strong team identity and hugely successful era for the club. It is intriguing, though, to ponder how differently Chelsea might have been under the FA Cup-winning former West Brom manager, who France Football numbered among its greatest ever coaches earlier this year.
Yes, Ajax’s ‘total football’ of the early 1970s, when they won the European Cup three times, 1971 to 1973, is credited to Rinus Michels. But many argue the philosophical groundwork for that brilliant team was laid by Johan Cruyff’s first coach, the near-forgotten Buckingham.
Saturday’s visitors Crystal Palace have a free week but a busy treatment room. James McCarthy is likely to miss out with a back injury, but Gary Cahill’s head injury is not expected to prevent an emotional return to the Bridge.
Emma Hayes’s side are back from their international break with a high-profile clash: the first visit of Manchester United Women since the original club was disbanded in 2005. Click to buy tickets.
A fortnight ago the Under-19s’ 1-0 victory heralded success for the first team that evening by the same scoreline. More of the same today? The match at Cobham has a 3pm kick-off and is live on BT Sport.
‘Every little thing is gonna be all right’
Chelsea crowds have sung Bob Marley and The Wailers’ song ‘Three Little Birds’ in the stands for the past few years, but it was Ajax who started it in 2008 at Ninian Park after a friendly against Cardiff. It is now their unofficial anthem.
There is a Chelsea connection to the reggae legend, though. In 1977 the Wailers were living at 42 Oakley Street, a short walk away from the Bridge. In fact, an English Heritage blue plaque marking their presence was recently unveiled at that address.
When not recording ‘Exodus’ – which included ‘Three Little Birds’ – or hanging out with the Clash, the Jamaican group were in the habit of having a kickabout, either crossing Albert Bridge to Battersea Park, or wandering over to Eel Brook Common. Several Blues fans remember facing them on the playing field at the time, and say how Marley himself was a fine footballer.
It has also been suggested the Jamaican attended games at Stamford Bridge while at Oakley Street. It is usually said, however, that Marley was a Spurs fan. Perhaps that was the inspiration for another ‘Exodus’ track – ‘Waiting In Vain.’
CAS schedule appeal date
The Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration in Sport has announced it will hear Chelsea’s appeal against a two-window transfer ban imposed by FIFA on Wednesday 20 November.
Bring proof of identity to the Bridge
Following crowd trouble among Ajax followers in Valencia, UEFA banned the visitors from selling any tickets to their supporters this evening. As a result of concerns that they might find a way in to the stadium anyway, the club has set up a one-off identity check before entry.
All those attending the match are asked to bring photographic ID such as a passport or driving licence, as this will be checked on the perimeter. Naturally this will take longer than usual, so please allow extra time before kick-off.
Champions League fixtures - matchday four
TuesdayBarcelona v Slavia Prague 5.55pmZenit v RB Leipzig 5.55pmBorussia Dortmund v Inter Milan 8pmChelsea v Ajax 8pmLiverpool v Genk 8pmLyon v Benfica 8pmNapoli v RB Salzburg 8pmValencia v Lille 8pm
WednesdayBayern Munich v Olympiacos 5.55pmLokomotiv Moscow v Juventus 5.55pmAtalanta v Manchester City 8pmBayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid 8pmDinamo Zagreb v Shakhtar Donetsk 8pmPSG v Club Bruges 8pmReal Madrid v Galatasaray 8pmRed Star Belgrade v Tottenham 8pm