Chelsea and Ajax have long been regarded as having two of the best youth systems around, as shown by the number of players who featured in Academy matches between the two clubs who could facing off again in the Champions League tonight.
The Chelsea and Ajax youth teams have met each other on three occasions in European competition, each time at Under-19s level, with six of the players involved in those matches now part of their club’s Champions League squad.
The first two games were both in the group stage of the 2012/13 NextGen Series, when honours were shared as a 0-0 draw in Aldershot was followed by a 3-3 thriller in the Netherlands.
Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are both now established members of our senior team, but back in that season were in the starting line-up for both of those matches for our Under-19s. In the first, the Blues were captained by Nathan Ake, a Dutch defender who has gone on to establish himself in the Premier League, albeit at Bournemouth rather than the Bridge. There were two further players in the Ajax team who would later join Ake as senior Dutch internationals, in Kenny Tete, now of Lyon, and Crystal Palace’s Jairo Riedewald.
The most recent of the matches came in the 2015/16 UEFA Youth League, on our way to lifting the trophy. Before beating Paris Saint-Germain in the final, we were drawn at home against Ajax in the quarter-finals.
Two of the players in our starting line-up at Cobham that day are in with a good chance of featuring again tonight, with Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham both playing the full 90 minutes in our 1-0 victory. While Abraham didn’t get on the score sheet in that match, he finished as our top scorer in the competition with eight goals in nine games.
There could even have been another member of our current men's first team in the Under-19s for that match, as Mason Mount made five appearances for us in the Youth League that season, but as a member of a younger age group, they all came from the bench and he was not involved against Ajax.
There were also some familiar names in the Ajax line-up for that game, particularly Donny van de Beek, the versatile midfielder who has started all three of the Dutch side’s Champions League matches so far this season. Centre-back Carel Eiting is also now a member of the Ajax senior side and made his Champions League debut for the club last season, but is yet to feature this term.
It’s also worth noting two of the most talented members of Ajax’s 2015/16 Under-19s side who won’t be on the pitch tonight. Matthijs de Ligt, who man-marked Abraham at Cobham, left Amsterdam to join Juventus in the summer, having captained the Dutch side on their run to the Champions League semi-finals last season.
However, in the case of Abdelhak Nouri, who captained Ajax’s Under-19s against Chelsea, his absence comes from tragic circumstances. The attacking midfielder was one of the most promising members of the Ajax squad until a cardiac arrest during a pre-season friendly in 2017, at the age of 22, left him with permanent brain damage. For all the young talent on display at the Bridge tonight, it is worth sparing a thought for one who sadly won’t be fulfilling his dream of representing his home-town team on the biggest stage