32 min: Pulisic takes. It’s really poor, a high, aimless waft, and easy pickings for Onana in the Ajax goal.
31 min: Veltman goes into the referee’s notebook for a cynical barge into Willian’s back, out on the left wing. A free kick, and a chance for Chelsea to load the box.
29 min: Turns out the second Ajax goal required clearance from the clowns operating the video fiasco system. Promes passed the armpit test, though one more pre-match spray of Lynx would have formed a film that pushed him over the line.
27 min: From the corner, Chelsea clear and break. Willian tries to release Pulisic down the right, but the ball’s a little bit too heavy and Veltman is able to clear his lines.
26 min: Neves purchases a very cheap free kick of Alonso, who didn’t make much contact as he slid in to challenge. But the pained hop fools the ref. Ziyech takes, out on the right. It’s swung in, and Abraham nearly deflects the ball past Kepa again, eyebrowing the high ball wide left with the keeper sprawling. Corner.
24 min: Chelsea can’t get a sniff at the minute. Ajax will be delighted with the way they’ve sucked the atmosphere out of the stadium. But suddenly the crowd find their voice. Carefree. But they’re not able to rouse their team. Nothing’s happening for them.
GOAL! Chelsea 1-2 Ajax (Promes 20)
Ziyech curls in a delicious cross from the right wing. Promes creeps in behind a snoozing Azpilicueta, and gently guides a header past Kepa, to the keeper’s left. As easy as it gets. That was a lovely ball from Ziyech, Promes couldn’t miss. But Chelsea’s defence is not dependable. On the touchline, Frank Lampard’s furrows his brow.
18 min: With no away section, it was always going to be a slightly strange atmosphere. It’s even odder given how open and entertaining the game is. The back-and-forth soundtrack sadly missing. It’s a big loss.
16 min: Another free kick for Ajax out on the left. Tagliafico takes this one, and it’s dealt with in a much calmer fashion this time by Chelsea. Meanwhile the home fans entertain themselves with a rousing rendition of Your Support Is Effing Ess, Ajax having been banned from officially taking anyone here after causing bother in Valencia recently. Satire.
14 min: Both teams come close to scoring. First up, Kovacic sashays down the middle of the park and slips Abraham clear. Abraham takes his time, and calmly slaps the ball into the bottom left. But he went early and is correctly flagged offside. Then Blind sends Tadic racing down the inside-right channel. Tadic drops a shoulder and nearly curls a gorgeous shot into the top left. Just over.
13 min: Willian turns on the jets and is felled in the agricultural style by Martinez. The Ajax midfielder should probably go in the book, but the referee is lenient.
12 min: And replays of the penalty incident suggest Pulisic was eventually upended by Tagliafico, after Veltman didn’t do quite enough to clip the Chelsea man by sliding in hysterically. They were determined to give that penalty away, were Ajax.
10 min: Replays show Abraham definitely deflected Promes’ free kick past Kepa. But it looked like the free kick was on target, so hopefully it won’t go down as an own goal. In any case, the damage was repaired a mere one minute and six seconds later.
8 min: Jorginho zips down the right but can’t get a shot or cross away from a tight angle. Then Willian briefly threatens to break clear down the middle but can’t quite get the ball under control. A fair chance tonight’s scoring won’t end at 1-1.
6 min: The Ajax corner bounces around the Chelsea area for a bit, and nobody seems to be bothered in either shooting or clearing. Eventually the ball sails away from the danger zone of its own accord. And breathe!
5 min: Dearie me, what an opening we’ve got here! Tadic very nearly releases Neres down the right. Alonso is forced to slide in to concede a corner. This is like basketball on steroids.
GOAL! Chelsea 1-1 Ajax (Jorginho 4 pen)
What a lovely spot kick this is. Jorginho jogs towards the ball, takes a little skip to send Onana the wrong way, and rolls softly into the bottom right!
PENALTY FOR CHELSEA!
3 min: Pulisic dribbles in from the left. Veltman slides in clumsily from behind, and that’s an easy decision for the referee. What a start we have here!
GOAL! Chelsea 0-1 Ajax (Promes 2)
Promes whips the free kick in from the touchline. It’s an inswinger, and it goes straight into the net! Bottom left! Abraham may have got a touch on it to confuse Kepa, but let’s give it to the Ajax forward.
2 min: Now Tagliafico skitters down the left, and is unceremoniously upended by Azpilicueta. Free kick. From which …
And we’re off! Ajax get the ball rolling, and soon enough Martinez and Ziyech are soon making good towards the Chelsea box. A ball down the right channel intended for Promes is shepherded out by Zouma, but that’s an early statement of intent by the visitors.
Here come the teams! Ajax do indeed sport their very pretty red and white shirts. It’s a damp, drizzly, miserable evening at Stamford Bridge. A typical Bonfire Night, in other words. Let’s hope this game isn’t a damp sq… hope that it sparks into lif… no, I can’t do it. It wouldn’t be fair to either of us. We’ll be off in a minute!
Corrections and clarifications. That’s a 1985 VW Golf, not a Polo. Thanks to Miika Vaso and Robert McAllister for pointing that out. Meanwhile our old friend Simon McMahon is lost in a misty water-coloured nostalgic reverie: “Austin Maxi was some player, eh? I often wonder what that Chelsea team could have gone on to achieve if they’d him kept him for another season or two to play alongside a young Ford Mondeo. Or if they’d signed Hertz Van Rental from Ajax.”
A full and Frank conversation. “Against real, high-end opposition, bravery comes into play. You have to receive the ball in tight areas, the press is good, the quality is good. We have to perform how we did out there. We have to reach that level, they’re very strong. Even off the back of a couple of wins in this competition, there’s still work to be done. So it’ll be a tough match for us. Ajax have so much talent in their team. They’re a very attacking team, their selection shows that. We have to be careful.”
Presumably Ajax will be kitted out in their storied red and white. If not, blame modern kit contracts, not us. Here’s Johan Cruyff wearing the gorgeous shirt, riding a sliding tackle by Den Haag defender Aad Mansveld in 1972. He’s about to make off with that Telstar, we’ll be bound.
Chelsea will play in their famous blue shirts. Their current patterned tops have a vague retro whiff about them. Hey, any old excuse to whack up a picture of Stamford Bridge back in the day, pitchside car park and all. Here’s everyone celebrating promotion from the old Second Division in 1989. Left to right: Ford Escort, Austin Maxi, Graham Roberts, Kevin Wilson, Peter Nicholas, Micky Hazard, Volkswagen Polo.
Two players will miss the next match if they’re booked: Ajax goalkeeper-captain Andre Onana and midfielder Lisandro Martinez. Chelsea can pick up as many yellow cards as they fancy.
Marcos Alonso returns to the Chelsea starting XI. He replaces Emerson, the only change made to the side named at Watford three days ago. N’Golo Kante is back from injury and on the bench. Neither Ross Barkley nor Olivier Giroud are in the squad, respectively unfit and unloved.
Ajax make two changes to the team sent out in Amsterdam two weeks ago. Noussair Mazraoui replaces Sergino Dest at right back, while David Neres takes Hakim Ziyech’s place in the front three; Ziyech shifts back to replace Edson Alvarez in midfield.
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Tomori, Alonso, Jorginho, Kovacic, Willian, Mount, Pulisic, Abraham.
Subs: Christensen, Kante, Caballero, Hudson-Odoi, Batshuayi, James, Gilmour.
Ajax: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Tagliafico, van de Beek, Ziyech, Martinez, Neres, Tadic, Promes.
Subs: Bruno Varela, Schuurs, Alvarez, Huntelaar, De Jong, Marin, Dest.
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy).
Welcome to the Guardian’s coverage of the game that could decide who wins Group H. Not that topping the group makes much difference in the long run. Not if you’re any good. Which both of these sides unquestionably are.
Chelsea, the reigning Europa League champions, are in fine fettle right now. They’ve won their last seven Premier League and Champions League matches, playing some delightfully open football along the way. At the weekend, they could have won by ten goals at Watford. They also very nearly drew the match 2-2. They’re that sort of team now. Kevin Keegan would approve.
Ajax, the reigning Dutch champions who fell two seconds short from last season’s Champions League final, are in rude health too. Erik ten Hag’s team are already well clear at the top of the Eredivise, and so far this season they’ve put four or more goals past Emmen, VVV-Venlo, Sparta Rotterdam, Heerenveen, Fortuna Sittard, PEC Zwolle and arch-rivals Feyenoord.
Ajax’s only defeat in this campaign to date came against Chelsea in the Amsterdam Arena a fortnight ago. So they’ll be looking to avenge that, and take one giant step towards the Round of 16. But of course young Chelsea have the exact same agenda. So given both teams’ attacking nature, plus Chelsea’s slightly shaky defence, we could have a breezy high-scorer on our hands here. Then again, the match in Amsterdam ended 0-1, so no promises. But it’s on!
Kick off: 8pm GMT.