Eight goals, two red cards, two penalties, two own goals, a crucial video assistant referee intervention and both sides refusing to settle for a draw – the Champions League delivered another epic evening at Stamford Bridge.
If one moment could sum up a remarkable night of chaos it was seeing Ajax’s Noussair Mazraoui have a shot saved in the 88th minute.
Why so? Well, he is Ajax’s right-back and was arriving on the overlap looking for a winner with the scores locked at 4-4.
Oh, and Ajax had nine men.
Last year’s semi-finalists are no strangers to Champions League drama – just ask Tottenham – and they served up more on what former Blues midfielder Joe Cole described it as “one of the great Champions League nights at Chelsea”.
Manager Frank Lampard said it was “madness”, goalscorer Reece James called it “crazy”, and though Lampard may rue his side’s failure to earn a win which would have sent them top of the group, it was certainly a game which had a bit of everything.
‘One decision changed everything’
Ajax have never lost a European Cup/Champions League match on English soil and they were in no mood to let that record slip, scoring inside two minutes when Tammy Abraham flicked Quincy Promes’ free-kick into his own net.
Jorginho soon levelled with a penalty but a header from Promes and another own goal – from keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga – ensured that Ajax had the quirky benefit of going in at half time 3-1 up despite only having one shot on target. Chelsea had shipped three goals in the first half of a Champions League game for the first time in their history.
Lampard sent on 19-year-old right-back James at the break, and was laughing loudly within seconds of the restart when centre-back Kurt Zouma ran from his own half, chucked in a few stepovers on the edge of the box and fired over. But he was then left cursing as Donny van de Beek swept in a lovely fourth to put Ajax firmly in charge.
“We are controlling the game then in one moment everything changed,” said Ajax manager Erik ten Hag.
He wasn’t wrong. Well, maybe slightly.
Captain Cesar Azpilicueta had already pulled one back from a yard out when the real game-changing moment arrived. Daley Blind flew into a challenge on Abraham, referee Gianluca Rocchi waved play on and then gave a penalty seconds later as substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi’s shot struck Joel Veltman’s arm.
Both Ajax centre-backs were booked within a minute of each other in the first half. Now they would both see red together too.
Jorginho converted, Ajax were down to nine men and Chelsea needed just one goal.
Ten Hag said: “False. It was handball, but what can he do with his hand? It’s no handball, no booking – but we have to accept it.
“Everyone will have the same opinion from the stands and from the television. We dictated and we are very bitter that one decision could change everything.”
‘There are not too many I can compare it to from my day’
You know the drill, go down to nine men and park the bus. But not Ajax, who had more shots on target when two men down than at 11 v 11.
Mind you, Chelsea had 21 efforts in the second half, and even mustered five in between Mazraoui’s late effort and the final whistle.
In the end, James’ low shot pulled the scores level, ensuring the Blues became the first English team since Liverpool in the 2005 final in Istanbul to come back from three goals down to draw in the Champions League. The Reds then won on penalties, of course.
Chelsea could – maybe should – have won it, but Azpilicueta’s excellent finish was ruled out for handball against Abraham after referee Rocchi consulted the video assistant referee monitor.
“I had some mad nights over the years and some great nights, but it’s certainly right up there,” Lampard said afterwards.
“There are not too many I can compare it to from my day – with the VAR, which is a new animal, and the red cards.
“We need to tighten up for sure, but with that spirit we can go places.
“You need characters, you need personalities. It would be easy to turn it in at 3-1, or 4-1, but we didn’t.”