Frank Lampard is well known in the world of football for defying expectations. That is what he did as a player, becoming one of the best midfielders ever to grace the sport a few years after leaving West Ham for Chelsea. And that is what he is doing now as a manager for the club where he already is a living legend.
On paper, an injury-stricken Chelsea missing their best player, midfielder N’Golo Kanté, would not have the best of chances to beat Champions League semifinalist Ajax at their home ground — especially with the hosts being on the back of a 17-match unbeaten run. And yet we were able to endure their initial pressure, to then see our second-half superiority be rewarded with a late goal from Michy Batshuayi.
Chelsea fans are ecstatic after tonight, and so is Frank after a ‘huge’ win over the team that almost got Tottenham out of the CL final last season.
“It feels huge. That always scares me because there’s a lot to do and it’s just six points halfway through the group now, but we’re entitled to be excited about how we played tonight.”
Better yet, it was a commendable effort from the entire group that lead to a slim, but well deserved victory over the Dutch side. It is the type of performance that, if emulated throughout the season, could lead us to very good places in the future.
“It can be a bit of a blueprint for us in terms of the work from the midfield players which was outstanding, the work of the wingers was outstanding, the work of the full-backs getting out to people, top players and stopping them making passes and easy decisions was absolutely outstanding.
“I could go through them all - Kurt Zouma, what a performance - but there’s no excuses for us now to dip from that.”
Adjustments made by Frank in the second half made a huge difference in the match. Most notably, the introduction of Christian Pulisic and Michy Batshuayi in place of Willian and Tammy Abraham, respectively, managed to put Ajax against the wall. That put the hosts in a very uncomfortable position, even though they had the backing of the home crowd throughout the game.
Captain America and the Batsman ended up combining for the winning goal, as they did against Southampton two-and-a-half weeks ago. Frank was delighted with their contributions, not just because of the goal, but also for completing the momentum turnaround that lead to our victory tonight.
“Sometimes the toughest part of management is leaving out players that really want to play week-in, week-out. You rely on them being positive and coming on to make an impact.
“Both Michy and Christian [Pulisic] did that, so I’m delighted for them both and delighted for the whole squad, because it’s great for team spirit when subs come on and make a difference like that.
“The beauty of my role is I have Michy and Olivier Giroud, whose training and positivity when they’re not playing regularly is exactly what you want. Michy’s hold-up play instantly was good in the game, he made a difference and got his goal so I’m delighted for him.”
Pulisic also deserves a special nod here. After (premature) fears over his status under Frank’s plans, the 21-year-old has been able to make instant impact every time he enters the pitch. And today was no different, as he managed to give Chelsea the directness they needed to break Ajax apart.
“You have to Christian huge credit because he looked so lively when he came on, and the assist is just as important as the finish. The fact that a substitute scored makes me so happy because it’s not easy when you’re picking a similar team every week.”
While the frustration was understandable, this Chelsea team is all about proving on the pitch that you deserve a place in the team. That is what Pulisic has been doing thus far, fast showing that he can endure the hardships of Premier League football. He shall get the full benefits of his good work quite soon.
“I’ve tried to shut my ears to a lot of the outside talk because there’s a lot said. I understand his quality, his young age and the fact it’s a big move for him. He wants to know what I want from him, what the Premier League is like and that’s not always an easy ride, but we’ve stayed calm and kept looking at the big picture.”
What is interesting is that a good chunk of players from this Chelsea side are still largely inexperienced when it comes to Champions League football. In fact it is Pulisic, previously a Borussia Dortmund player, who has the most time spent in top European pitches out of all our under-22 players, with 1,452 minutes of play in the competition. Meanwhile, Callum Hudson-Odoi made his full CL debut tonight!
And against all obstacles, from the aforementioned lack of experience to an unfavourable atmosphere, this young group were able to pick a massive result in Amsterdam. It was a great outcome from a difficult test, with plenty yet to come in their path this season and beyond.
“The younger players are still babies in Champions League minutes, so this was a huge test for them.
“Football will continue to give you tests all the time, so I don’t want to say they’re there or this is it. But I thought the balance of our team between the young players who are learning quickly and the experienced players who they rely on them to set examples was good.
“We just need to realise the things that made that result happen tonight because Ajax are a top team, the atmosphere was difficult for us.
“We respected Ajax and that’s how we should be. I focus on ourselves a lot and the most pleasing thing I see at the minute is the desire to improve, take on information and follow a game plan.
“When you come into a new club, you do make changes and you rely on all the squad taking those bits in and working with that, but the signs are good at the moment.”
-Frank Lampard; Source: Chelsea FC
COME ON, CHELSEA!