Dutch test for boys in blue

Striker Tammy Abraham, 22, (second from right) is leading Chelsea's charge this season, starting with training at the club's ground in Cobham. Frank Lampard's men take on last season's semi-finalists Ajax in the Champions League today, as the English
Striker Tammy Abraham, 22, (second from right) is leading Chelsea's charge this season, starting with training at the club's ground in Cobham. Frank Lampard's men take on last season's semi-finalists Ajax in the Champions League today, as the English team seek to close the gap on the Group H leaders. PHOTO: REUTERS

Youthful Chelsea team, on a five-game winning run, take good form to Amsterdam to face Ajax

AMSTERDAM • Chelsea's young guns will test their run of blistering form against one of the biggest proponents of youth development today, as they attempt to stop an Ajax team bent on replicating last season's thrilling run to the Champions League semi-finals.

The Blues are on a five-match winning streak in all competitions, powered by the likes of academy graduates Tammy Abraham, 22, Mason Mount, 20, Fikayo Tomori, 21, and Callum Hudson-Odoi, 18.

But the trip to face the Group H leaders in Amsterdam will be a far sterner proposition, with the hosts averaging three goals a game so far.

Chelsea are second on three points, ahead of Valencia on goal difference, and Frank Lampard knows they will need to overcome the "really big" ties with Ajax to qualify for the knockout stage.

The Blues manager, who could be without Ross Barkley, Emerson Palmieri and N'Golo Kante, with Andreas Christensen already ruled out, told the club website ahead of their visit to the Johan Cruyff Arena: "They're such a strong team.

"The movement of the team and the way they play football will be a big test for us. They've got six points and they'll give us a problem in terms of the atmosphere inside the stadium being strong."

Abraham, now firmly Lampard's first-choice striker with eight goals in nine Premier League matches, agreed with his boss that Ajax away is "a massive game".

The England international, noting similarities between the Dutch Eredivisie champions producing burgeoning talent and Chelsea's success at bringing through academy players in recent seasons, said: "They are like us, they have a lot of young players who like to keep the ball and play good football. Off the ball as well, they like to win it back quickly.

  • 25.5

    Average age (25 years and 184 days) of Chelsea's starting XI in the 2-1 victory over Lille in their last Champions League game - their youngest in the competition since September 2015.

  • 23.8

    Average age of Ajax Amsterdam's squad.

"We know it's not going to be easy, but I believe in myself and my team that we can hopefully get a result there."

While many had expected Ajax to struggle after selling two of their best players in Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt in the summer, Erik ten Hag's men have simply picked up where they left off.

Hakim Ziyech, David Neres and Dusan Tadic have all carried over their form from last season, Sergino Dest has come up the youth ranks, while new recruit Quincy Promes has added another attacking dimension with eight goals so far. Ten Hag has also plugged the holes left by de Jong and de Ligt, with summer signings Edson Alvarez and Lisandro Martinez impressing.

The team are top of the Dutch league, three points ahead of PSV Eindhoven and Vitesse Arnhem.

They are also unbeaten after scoring 31 times in their opening 10 games and conceding just seven. Their fine form has led to rampant speculation ten Hag is a target to replace Niko Kovac at Bayern Munich after the German champions' mixed start to their Bundesliga campaign, winning just half of their eight games.

Refusing to play down the links ahead of the Chelsea clash, the coach told Kicker magazine: "I do not exclude anything... The day will eventually come to say goodbye."

Turning his attention to the "incredibly good" Blues, he added: "I don't want to be too humble and see us as an underdog, but when a Dutch team plays against a Premier League club, then we definitely are.

"But we have self-confidence and developed a playing style with which we can cause problems for any opponent. We aren't afraid of any team and can beat Chelsea. But for that, we need a top performance." AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AJAX V CHELSEA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'Dutch test for boys in blue'. Print Edition | Subscribe