Frank Lampard has received plenty of plaudits for the way he has blooded Chelsea’s youngsters this season, but he knows they are facing the masters of youth development in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
The Blues, featuring academy graduates Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori, have racked up five consecutive wins in all competitions and climbed into the top four after Saturday’s victory over Newcastle.
However, Ajax have long been famed for their youth policy and last season that exuberance swept them all the way to the semi-finals of the Champions League, where they were agonisingly pipped by Tottenham.
Chelsea have been building up their academy in recent years and this season, in part because of their transfer ban, it has borne fruit.
But Lampard, speaking ahead of their Champions League Group H clash in the stadium named after Ajax and Holland’s favourite football son Johan Cruyff, said: “There’s a long way to go to claim there are similarities.
“We have pride in the short term, but we shouldn’t get carried away. It’s great, the good feeling at the club in terms of the young players that have come through.
“But we are in a place here steeped in history of bringing young players through, creating great teams with groups of young players, and we have a long way to go to do that.
“What Ajax did last year was incredible, to get as far as they did with such a young team.
“I think you see my belief in our young players because even though everyone says we had a transfer ban and it’s the only option I had, that’s not true. I have lots of options in the squad.
“The young players have shown they should play and I believe in them. But it just the beginning of the road.”
Lampard was accused by one Dutch reporter of being ‘scared’ of Ajax. The Blues boss laughed off the suggestion, insisting: “That’s just my face!”
But he added: “I respect the team and I’m very aware of the new threats they have. It’s not a fact of being scared of Ajax, but we hugely respect them. We also have confidence in ourselves.
“It will be a really tough match against a team that we know how they performed last year and how they’ve started this group, winning both games comfortably.
“I don’t think our five wins mean anything, other than we’ll have some confidence, but this will be a completely different challenge which obviously we need to be ready for.”
Ross Barkley did not travel after turning his ankle against Newcastle on Saturday, and N’Golo Kante is still recovering from a groin problem.
“They’re not here,” said Lampard. “Ross will hopefully be fit to train by the time we get back on Thursday. N’Golo is training but we’ll see how he is for the weekend, we’re not clear on that yet.”
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