Frank Lampard will be missing some major players when he selects his team to take on Ajax in Amsterdam tomorrow night although speaking at the stadium that will host the game, he explained there are still areas of the side where his choice is very tough.
Our head coach was speaking to the media shortly after arriving in the Netherlands and although Toni Rudiger had trained with the other players in the morning at Cobham, the defender had not joined them on the flight. Ross Barkley and N’Golo Kante had not been part of the main training. Andreas Christensen was ruled out for a couple of weeks before the weekend game.
‘Ross will hopefully be fit to train by the time we get back on Thursday,’ Lampard reported.
‘Toni trained with us today which is part of a small programme to have him fit. He is out of contention for the weekend but [he will be] hopefully soon. N’Golo similarly is training but we shall see how he is for the weekend. We are not clear yet on that one.
‘We are expecting a really tough match against a team who we know how they performed last year,’ he continued. ‘Now they have started this group winning both games comfortably, so it is going to be a tough match. I don’t think our five wins in a row mean anything other than I hope we have some confidence but this will be a completely different challenge which we need to be ready for.
‘I respect the Ajax team. I watched them last year and I know the team has changed slightly but I am very aware of the new threats and anywhere you travel in the Champions League is a difficult match.
‘We are not scared of Ajax but we hugely respect them as a team. We also have confidence in ourselves.’
It is inevitable that given the current level of noise around Chelsea using plenty of our Academy products this season, and Ajax’s long-standing history of doing it, comparisons will be made.
‘We have a long way to go to claim the similarities,’ pointed out Lampard, ‘but there is pride in the short-term because we should not get carried away with ourselves. It is great, the good feeling at the club in terms of the young players who have come through.
‘It is long-deserved recognition for the Academy and those players but we are in a place that is steeped in history of bringing young players through and creating great teams with groups of young players over the years, and we have a long way to go to do that. In the short term I am certainly happy and we need to continue working so that the young players continue their development.
‘You see my belief in them. Everyone says it is due to the transfer ban and it is the only option I have but that is not true. I have lots of options in the squad. The players have shown and I believe in them but we must not get carried away that this is the end of the story, because it is a nice story until now but success in the longer term is what we have to work for. It is just the beginning of the road.’
The spotlight on Chelsea’s young Blues continued when Lampard was asked if Hudson-Odoi is ready for a big Champions League challenge such as this one.
‘I think he is but so are other players and with that comes my problem of selection for games as I have a competitive squad. Some are fresh to the Champions League and some have been here before, but just isolating Callum, his performance against Newcastle was huge signs of what we want to see.
We know the talent is there and it is great his contract is signed now, and the problems he gave Newcastle were things I really want to see consistently from him, which are end product and delivery to the box, getting at people and running behind.
‘Christian Pulisic’s impact was good when he came on as well. Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.
‘The extra level that is the Champions League – the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.’