Lampard ‘confident’ his youngsters can pass Ajax test
Frank Lampard said on Tuesday that he was “aware” of the threat from a formidable Ajax team but had “confidence” in his young Chelsea team ahead of Wednesday’s key Champions League clash.
The new-look Blues, reinvigorated by an injection of youth, begin a doubleheader with Group H leaders Ajax, on Wednesday.
The Dutch champions rattled three goals past both Lille and Valencia and are averaging more than three goals a game in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Told jokingly by Dutch media that he looked scared, Lampard replied “that’s just my face”.
“I respect the team because I watched them play last year … I’m very aware of the new threats that they have as a team,” he said.
“It’s not a factor of being scared of Ajax. We hugely respect them as a team, but we also have confidence in ourselves.”
Chelsea come into the match after five straight wins in all competitions, but Lampard says that domestic form will count for little at the Johan Cruyff Arena, especially given Chelsea’s long injury list.
Lampard confirmed that Ross Barkley and N’Golo Kante would not be fit to play on Wednesday, while Antonio Rudiger is also still out.
“I don’t think the five wins mean anything other than giving us confidence, this will be a difficult challenge and we need to be ready,” said Lampard, who has pushed players from Chelsea’s vaunted academy into the first team this season.
While Lampard said that he felt “pride” at the “long-deserved recognition” for the club’s youth development, he insisted that a transfer ban wasn’t the main reason young players such as Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori being pushed into the limelight.
“Everyone says we have a transfer ban and it’s the only option I have — that’s not true,” said Lampard.
“I have lots of options in the squad and I made the options on the players I think should play. I believe in them. But that’s not the end of the story … it’s a success, in the long-term, that we have to aim for.
“We are in a place with a history of bringing young players through and creating great teams with young players over the years and we have a long way to go.”
One of those players is Tomori, who faces the unenviable task of trying to stop a multi-pronged Ajax attack that will feature former injury doubt Hakim Ziyech, scorer of an astonishing goal last time at Valencia.
The flamboyant Dutch champions are on the hunt for European success after a thrilling run to the semi-finals last season, which captured the continent’s imagination. They are possibly the biggest test yet for Lampard’s fledgeling team.
“Both teams are coming into the game with good form and it’s a big game in the group. Ajax are such a big club with great history,” said Tomori, who is confident Chelsea are up to the task.
“I don’t think we can put a limit on ourselves. We’re in good form, and we’re trying to continue that throughout the season in every competition. We want to carry on going.”