Chelsea and Ajax played out one of the classic European games at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, with the Blues coming from 4-1 down to salvage a point and maintain control of our Champions League destiny in Group H.
The result leaves Frank Lampard’s side level with the Dutch champions and Valencia on seven points each in the group, though our superior head-to-head record against Ajax means we will finish above them if we remain on the same points. If we win by two or more goals at the Mestalla at the end of the month, our place in the last-16 will be guaranteed by the same method over the Spaniards.
On Guy Fawkes Night in the capital, the script at Stamford Bridge took as many unlikely twists and implausible turns as that failed Gunpowder Plot over 400 years previously just down the road in SW1. The Blues were 4-1 down with 35 minutes remaining but one catastrophic incident for the visitors saw them reduced to nine men and concede a penalty, which Jorginho converted to kick-start our comeback.
Reece James completed the emphatic response, lashing in from just inside the box after Kurt Zouma had thundered a header against the crossbar, becoming Chelsea’s youngest-ever Champions League goalscorer in the process.
Read: Match report - Chelsea 4 Ajax 4
After the game, the 19-year-old admitted there were mixed feelings in the dressing room as the players felt pleased to have salvaged a point but frustrated they didn’t make it three.
‘It was a crazy game, being 3-1 down at half-time and then bringing it back to 4-4,’ said James. ‘There’s a little bit of disappointment because we had a few chances where we could have scored to win the game but from where we were at half-time, it was a great end to the game.’
The full-back came on at the break and made a positive impact, thundering down the right flank and delivering a barrage of teasing crosses into the Ajax box. The message relayed to him by the boss as he prepared for his introduction was simple and he was delighted to follow his maiden Chelsea goal against Grimsby Town with this, far more crucial, equaliser.
‘He didn’t say too much, just to go on, get in the game and liven the boys up,’ reflected James on Lampard’s instructions.
‘I was happy to come on and make an impact but scoring a goal was a bonus. It’s always a great feeling scoring at Stamford Bridge and for such a great club.’
James acknowledged that the double dismissal inflicted on the Dutchmen with 20 minutes remaining proved a significant turning point in the contest, with the quick response that restored parity leaving a quarter-of-an-hour left for the hosts to find a winner.
Cesar Azpilicueta thought he had made it 5-4 but the referee, following use of the pitchside VAR monitor, ruled it out for a handball by Tammy Abraham. That meant we had to settle for a draw despite playing with two extra men for the final stages. However, James felt the spirit shown was another positive takeaway from the night.
‘They were hard to break down and we scored quite a few once they went down to nine men,’ he added. ‘It was just a shame we didn’t win it. You can look at it from both points of view – we could have had all three points but we’re happy to at least get one and take a draw.
‘There are questions we can ask ourselves but once you’re in that position [4-1 down], you just need to give everything to get out of it.’