Frank Lampard insists Chelsea’s transfer ban did not force his hand to play Tammy Abraham.
The 21-year-old surged to the top of the scoring charts with a hat-trick against Wolves on Saturday taking his tally to seven for the season.
With Chelsea currently banned from bringing in new players, Lampard has relied heavily on Abraham and fellow youngsters Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori.
But the Blues boss says he always believed the time was right for Abraham, who has had spells on loan with Bristol City, Swansea and Aston Villa, to be handed his chance in west London.
“I never had clear expectations for him, only the fact that I believed in him and trusted in him,” said Lampard.
“I know a lot has been made about the ban giving young players opportunities but I felt the time was right for Tammy to have his opportunity at this club anyway, because of the quality he has got.
“I’m really delighted that he has got his goals. I think there’s even more to come. He’s in a good place, a place that just requires him to sustain and improve even more and I think with his mentality and the way he is every day I hope to see that.”
Abraham is set for his Champions League debut against Valencia at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, while for Lampard it will be a first match in Europe as manager.
Lampard, who lifted the trophy as a Blues player in 2012, said: “I’ll be proud to do it. I had multiple incredible nights in the Champions League – and some bad ones – and it is the ultimate in club football for me.
“I’ll be proud to take the team out, well aware that what matters is results and starting the group well, but yes I am excited.”
Chelsea face a Valencia side in a certain amount of disarray with the players currently refusing to talk to the media in protest at last week’s sacking of popular manager Marcelino, despite winning the Copa del Rey and securing Champions League football last season.
Instead former Real Madrid assistant Albert Celades will be in the opposite dug-out, and Lampard added: “I’m aware of what’s going on, but at the same time it doesn’t affect our approach. We are going up against a quality team.
“But in my experience of moments like this, when there is an issue as collective, as a team, as a group against the media or the outside world, generally it makes the group tighter and sometimes it can be a positive as much as a negative on the pitch.
“So I’m not going to think about it but we are going to be ready for a team who will be determined to do well.”
Blues goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga knows many of the Valencia squad from international duty with Spain.
He said: “I know the team very well and they certainly weren’t expecting this.
“But Valencia are a team that have done well, they know how to make the best of their strength which is to counter-attack and they have some world-class players.”
Lampard will be without defender Antonio Rudiger due to a groin injury, while N’Golo Kante and Callum Hudson-Odoi are not match fit.