Ahead of our midweek trip to one of the great football institutions, Frank Lampard has insisted every game is an education - and he also labels one of his talented young players a ‘sponge’ for the manner in which he absorbs information from the coaching staff.
Having seen off Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday courtesy of a late Marcos Alonso goal, the Blues are currently preparing for what is, on paper, the toughest assignment of our Champions League group campaign when we take on Ajax in Amsterdam.
Facing last season’s semi-finalists, who play in a very different manner to what Lampard and his team come up against on a weekly basis in the Premier League, will be a big test of our credentials as we look to make it six wins on the bounce. However, our head coach insists there are lessons to be learned from each of our matches.
‘Everything is, in football,’ said Lampard, discussing the prospect of a football education on Wednesday night. ‘Newcastle was an education in terms of trying to break down a team with 10 men behind the ball a lot of the time. Lille was a big education in terms of Champions League debuts. And now another one against Ajax, a top-level team who managed to reach the semi-finals and who play a certain way. I think particularly off the ball you have to be fully concentrated, in terms of what they can do to you with how they move and play.’
Champions League Group H is extremely tight, with the Blues level with Valencia on three points, trailing Ajax by three and with Lille yet to get off the mark at the bottom. With two games to come in quick succession against the group leaders, that leaves a big opportunity to put ourselves in pole position to progress.
‘We got a good result in Lille, which changes the face of it slightly, and now these two games against Ajax are really big because they’re such a strong team. They’ve got six points on the board and they’ll give us a problem in terms of the atmosphere inside the stadium being strong. The movement of the team and the way they play football will be a big test for us. I think we’re going there relatively confident and take on the challenge.’
One man who will be hope to lead the charge against the reigning Eredivisie champions is Tammy Abraham, who is our leading scorer this season with nine goals, including one in the Champions League against Lille to open his account in the competition on his 22nd birthday.
Although our No.9 didn’t add to his tally in the win over Newcastle on Saturday, Lampard was impressed with his contribution and the manner in which Abraham shows improvement with each passing week.
‘What you see with Tammy is what you get: physicality, movement and enthusiasm to keep trying to be a problem for the defenders,’ he said. ‘I’ve got nice problems up front. We’ve got Giroud and Batshuayi who, to give them both credit, have shown great professionalism, training at a level, and they’ll get their chances as well because it’s a long season. But at the moment Tammy, with regular goals and being a big part of getting us to where we are at the moment, has been playing.
‘He’s a sponge – he wants to listen, to get better, to score more goals, improve his game and help his team-mates. He’s got the beautiful base of that in terms of coaching. The goals, and performances, will show him what he can do at this level and hopefully can move him up the levels even more.’
Abraham’s advance to regular senior football has been to Olivier Giroud’s detriment, as our World Cup-winning forward has been forced to watch on for much of the season. While away on international duty recently, when he scored both of France’s goals in their Euro 2020 qualifiers against Iceland and Turkey, the 33-year-old stated he would look at the situation again in January, although his primary focus was on gaining more minutes for the Blues.
As far as Lampard is concerned, he has no issue whatsoever with the centre-forward’s words.
‘I’ve had a good chat with Ollie before he went away. I always respect all the players, particularly players his age – I was at that low thirties age and I love his professionalism. It was bang on when he spoke to me and bang on with his quotes when he was away with France.
‘He shouldn’t be happy and accept not playing – that’s what good players do. I think, as I said to Ollie, he’ll get his games and be a big influence for us. At the moment, because of the way Tammy’s playing, there haven’t been so many minutes. I would happily sit down with Ollie in January, but that’s a long way away, so we’ll see.’