(Reuters) – Ajax’s exploits last season is proof that a young squad can go far and Chelsea will look to them for inspiration when the two teams meet in the Champions League on Wednesday, the Premier League club’s manager Frank Lampard said on Tuesday.
A young Ajax side under Erik Ten Hag upset heavyweight teams such as Real Madrid and Juventus in the competition’s knockout stages last season before their fairytale run was ended by Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-finals.
Lampard has also resorted to picking academy players this season with Chelsea operating under a FIFA-enforced transfer ban but the former English midfielder said he was promoting young players based on merit rather than out of compulsion.
“What Ajax did last year was incredible, to do what they did with such a young team,” Lampard told reporters.
“We are in a place here that is steeped in history of bringing young players through. We have a long way to go to do that, but in the short term I am happy with what we have.
“You see my belief in them. People say I have no options in my squad so I have to play them. That’s not true, I chose to play them.”
Ajax top Group H with six points after wins over Valencia and Lille, while Chelsea are third on three points.
Lampard said he was aware of how they have adapted despite losing last season’s standout players Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong to Juventus and Barcelona respectively.
“I watched them play last year and I know their team has changed slightly,” Lampard added. “I’m very aware of the new threats they have.
“They’ve won two games convincingly. We hugely respect them as a team. We also have confidence in ourselves, we know it’s a tough match.”
Chelsea will be light in midfield, however, after Lampard revealed N’Golo Kante (groin) and Ross Barkley (ankle) stayed behind to recover for Saturday’s game at Burnley while centre back Antonio Rudiger trained with the squad but did not travel.
“Kante, Barkley and Rudiger are not here,” Lampard said. “Rudiger trained with us today but is out of contention for the weekend.
“N’Golo is training but we’ll see how he is for the weekend. (We’re) not sure about that one.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)