Substitute Michy Batshuayi delivered a valuable late winner for Chelsea as they stung last term’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax.
The Eredivisie leaders had triumphed from both Group H-clashes prior to the visit of Frank Lampard’s men. They appeared set for a third when winger Quincy Promes tapped in at the back post in the first half, only for the video assistant referee to call offside by a minuscule – and controversial – margin.
Mexico international Edson Alvarez also headed against the post after the interval for the hosts.
A tense match, however, would be decided in the 86th minute when Christian Pulisic teed up fellow replacement Batshuayi to lash a cross into the roof of Andre Onana’s net. This second-successive victory put the disciplined Blues top of the standings, level on six points with Ajax at the halfway stage.
Here are the talking points from the Johan Cruyff Arena:
BANNED CHELSEA’S TRANSFER POWER STILL TELLS
Similarities abounded both pre-match and on the pitch in Amsterdam – that was until Batshuayi’s critical intervention.
Both clubs carried a youthful edge; Ajax’s, of course, by design and Chelsea’s through the circumstance of an ongoing transfer ban. This stance by the visiting Blues was exemplified by the fact that England winger Callum Hudson-Odoi became their youngest UCL starter, at 18 years and 350 days, since the forgotten Josh McEachran in December 2010.
Little would then, unsurprisingly, separate clubs on five-match winning runs in all competitions.
The margins were astonishingly narrow when Promes was belatedly ruled to be offside and Alvarez rocked the woodwork, during a match played at high pace but without many flashes of elite quality. This last statement was borne out by the fact only two of Ajax’s 10 attempts were on target, Chelsea not doing much better with four from 16.
This was until the Blues’ residual – and superior – financial power finally told as €40 million Belgium forward Batshuayi latched onto €64m United States winger Pulisic’s cross – and the rest is history.
Both of these players cost far in excess of the Eredivisie-record €16.5m sent Manchester United’s way to return utility defender Daley Blind to Ajax.
With home-grown superstars Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt gone, are Ajax critically weakened?
CAN AJAX GO AGAIN?
The €150m hole left in the spine of 2018/19’s revitalising Ajax side had not shown itself in an unbeaten start to their Eredivisie defence and perfect six-point haul in Europe.
Morocco winger Hakim Ziyech, playmaker Donny van de Beek and Serbia forward Dusan Tadic were among those retained, while versatile Mexican Alvarez and live-wire Argentine midfield partner Lisandro Martinez were proving seamless additions.
This first loss of the campaign, however, showed more difficult days could lie ahead. De Jong’s mercurial midfield play was glaringly absent in an often-scrappy contest, while Batshuayi’s movement befuddled the defence.
9 - Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Michy Batshuayi has scored nine goals as a substitute for Chelsea - four more than any other Blues player. Impact. pic.twitter.com/OpqEEEd9G0— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 23, 2019
A nine-match unbeaten run at the group stage is gone, while this was a second-successive loss to London opposition – Tottenham’s staggering revival cost them a first final appearance since 1996.
Chelsea represented a step-up in class from Valencia and Lille, plus the Eredivisie. Ajax came up short.
‘BATMAN’ KEEPS ON ANSWERING EMERGENCY CALL
The ‘super-sub’ is a mythical creature in football.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made himself a legend at Manchester United with it, while Pedro rose to prominence at Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona in similar fashion.
Fast forward to the present and Batshuayi is performing this cherished role to influential effect.
Since the start of 2016/17, according to Opta, Michy Batshuayi has scored nine goals as a substitute for Chelsea – four more than any other Blues player. Not bad for a player whose spent, effectively, two of these campaigns away on loan at Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and Crystal Palace.
In six cameos this term that total a time of 64 minutes, the 26-year-old has netted twice and delivered one assist. That’s a valuable ratio for Lampard to lean on during matches when Tammy Abraham does not fire.
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