Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Lampard hails the character of young Blues aces

Ajax 0 Chelsea 1

Super sub: Michy Batshuayi comes off the bench to fire home the winner for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea
Super sub: Michy Batshuayi comes off the bench to fire home the winner for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea
Frank Lampard

By Miguel Delaney

Frank Lampard felt his Chelsea "babies" came of age in the Champions League after their stunning 1-0 win at Ajax.

Michy Batshuayi climbed off the bench to fire the Blues to a memorable victory in Amsterdam, the Belgian striker making amends for a shocking earlier miss four minutes from time to hand last season's semi-finalists their first defeat of this campaign.

The Blues rode their luck at times, not least when an Ajax goal was ruled out by VAR for the tightest of offside calls, and when the hosts hit the frame of the goal, but Lampard's young side grew in stature as a frantic, tetchy encounter wore on and ran out deserved winners when Batshuayi rifled in off the underside of the crossbar.

"I'm delighted with every element of the performance," said the Blues boss. "It feels huge - it's just six points in the group and we play Burnley on Saturday. But I think we're allowed to be excited tonight.

"That's the blueprint. There are no excuses for us now. That's the standard and we can't drop it. The young players are still babies in terms of Champions League minutes so this was a huge test for them.

"There was a good balance of young players and experience.

"We need to realise the things that made that happen tonight because Ajax are a top, top team," he added.

Lampard was indebted to his substitutes after the lively Christian Pulisic set up the goal for Batshuayi.

"The subs were second to none," he added. "Sometimes the hardest thing is leaving someone out. But it's great for the spirit of the squad when subs come on and have an impact like that.

"I was frustrated when Michy missed, and whatever had happened after that I would have been proud, but I know Michy can finish.

"Christian's assist is as important as the finish, and the fact the sub scored makes me so happy."

It had been a nervy start from the west Londoners, with Fiyako Tomori's slip gifting Donny van de Beek a shooting chance, and goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga passing straight to Hakim Ziyech.

They were fortunate to escape on both counts, while Joel Veltman belted a drive from the edge of the box narrowly wide.

But Chelsea had their chances too in a frantic opening, with Mason Mount playing a sharp one-two before forcing Andre Onana to save at his near post, and Callum Hudson-Odoi slicing wide when well placed.

Nerves were fraying on the Chelsea bench as well, with assistant Jody Morris booked for letting his frustration get the better of him.

Ajax had the ball in the net in the 34th minute when Southampton flop turned Ballon D'or nominee Dusan Tadic played in Ziyech, whose attempted curler was deflected into the path of Quincy Promes.

But Chelsea breathed again after VAR ruled that Promes, or at least a microscopic part of him, was offside before scoring.

Just before half-time Cesar Azpilicueta, a survivor from the last time Chelsea visited the Johan Cruyff Arena in the 2013 Europa League final, was sent clear by Mount but fired high and wide.

After the break Tadic was fortunate to escape a red card for leaving an arm in on Willian, before Chelsea got lucky again when Edson Alvarez's header clipped the far post.

The industrious Tammy Abraham was taken off with 20 minutes remaining and replaced by Batshuayi, who immediately missed a glorious chance.

A stray shot ricocheted to the feet of the Belgian, six yards out in front of goal, but he skied his shot horribly.

Another sub, Christian Pulisic, went on a dazzling run before pulling his effort across goal and wide.

But when Pulisic later pulled the ball back in the six-yard area Batshuayi was on hand to fire home and secure a sixth straight win for Lampard's side.

The memory of a visit from a London club remains raw for Ajax following Tottenham's last-gasp semi-final comeback in May, and this was another painful experience for their youthful outfit.

Captain Tadic said: "I think it was 50-50. Chelsea are a good club, but we can do better.

"We were sloppy and made easy mistakes. Now we have to focus again on the next game."

AJAX: Onana, Dest, Veltman (Huntelaar, 89 mins), Blind, Tagliafico, Alvarez (De Jong, 89 mins), Martinez, Ziyech, van de Beek, Promes (Neres, 74 mins), Tadic. Unused subs: Bruno Varela, Schuurs, Mazraoui, Marin.

CHELSEA: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso, Jorginho, Kovacic, Hudson-Odoi (James, 90 mins), Mount, Willian (Pulisic, 66 mins), Abraham (Batshuayi, 71 mins). Unused subs: Caballero, Giroud, Emerson Palmieri, Gilmour.

Referee: Ovidiu Alin Hategan (Romania)

Man of the match: Mateo Kovacic

Match rating: 6/10

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph