Frank Lampard believes his Chelsea side are going places after summoning the spirit to fight back from 4-1 down to salvage a 4-4 draw against nine-man Ajax on what he described as a “mad” night at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues seemed destined for a defeat as first half own goals from Tammy Abraham and Kepa Arrizabalaga added to Quincy Promes’ header and predatory finish from Donny Van der Beek handed the Dutch champions a 4-1 lead.
However, after Cesar Azpilicueta brought Chelsea back into the game at 4-2, the visitors were reduced to nine men by second yellow cards for Daley Blind and Joel Veltman in the move that led to the hosts being awarded their second penalty of the night.
Jorginho scored his second spot-kick before Reece James levelled and only VAR denied Chelsea a famous victory when Azpilicueta’s strike was ruled out for a handball by Abraham.
“I had some mad nights over the years and some great nights, but it’s certainly right up there,” said Lampard, who won the Champions League with Chelsea in a glorious 13-year playing career.
“The spirit we showed and the character is something that I loved and I think our fans loved. We need to tighten up for sure, but with that sprit we can go places.”
Both sides are now locked on seven points at top of Group H with Valencia, who were 4-1 winners over Lille, and host Chelsea next on November 27.
“I always felt this group could be quite tight. We are in it but we certainly have a lot of work to do,” added Lampard.
The former England international hailed his side’s 1-0 victory in Amsterdam two weeks ago as the best of his Chelsea tenure to date for the way they added a defensive resolve to their attacking verve.
– Chelsea defensive lapses –
Two weeks on, they were easily undone from crosses as Ajax went in front inside two minutes when Promes’ free-kick flicked off Abraham and into his own net.
Chelsea responded immediately as Christian Pulisic’s promising form of recent weeks continued with a powerful run into the box before he was brought down by Veltman and Jorginho coolly slotted home the resulting spot-kick.
Just as Chelsea were beginning to wrestle control, Ajax retook the lead with a wicked cross from Hakim Ziyech picking out Promes to head home.
Ziyech was the creator once more 10 minutes before half-time when his sensational free-kick from near the right touchline came back off the post and rebounded in off goalkeeper Arrizabalaga’s face.
Any hope of a comeback appeared to have gone 10 minutes into the second half when Van de Beek, who scored a number of vital goals on Ajax’s run to the last four last season, rifled home another Ziyech assist.
But Azpilicueta sparked the fightback by prodding in at the back post after Abraham had flicked Pulisic’s low cross goalwards.
Then a minute of madness turned the game on its as Ajax had Blind and Veltman sent-off and conceded a second penalty.
Blind was shown a second yellow card for bringing down Abraham and, as the advantage was played, Veltman handled Callum Hudson-Odoi’s shot inside his own box and was also booked for the second time.
“We are controlling the game then in one moment everything changed,” said Ajax manager Erik ten Hag, who felt Blind had been fouled before diving in on Abraham.
“From our performance we deserved to win tonight with 11 and also with 9.
“We are still top of this pool and it is still in our hands. When we perform like this we can justify that I am positive.”
Jorginho calmly sent Andre Onana the wrong way from the spot to make it 3-4.
Three minutes later, Chelsea were level when James smashed home after Kurt Zouma’s header came off the bar.
After VAR ruled out Azpilicueta’s second goal, Hudson-Odoi fired inches wide and Onana made a brilliant save to deny Michy Batshuayi a winner in a frantic finale, but Ajax held out for what in the end was a welcome point.