Ajax vs Chelsea: Five things we learned as Michy Batshuayi seals victory for Frank Lampard’s Blues

Kishan Vaghela
Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori challenges for the ball in the air: AP

1) Tomori is the future cornerstone of Chelsea’s defence

Lampard started with a back three against Valencia and Lille, but in Amsterdam, with three centre-backs having no one to mark given that Dusan Tadic was occupying the false nine role, Lampard went for a back four for the first time in this Champions League campaign.

But after initial jitters, the back four kept out a lightning Ajax forward line. Fikayo Tomori appeared to embody that, losing the ball early in the first half on the halfway line and being pulled left, right and centre.

Tomori spoke before the game of wanting to repay the faith Lampard had shown in him, and eventually he did so on this occasion, which was no better symbolised by standing his ground and averting danger when Kepa had carelessly cleared the ball to Hakim Ziyech.

There were moments of luck for Chelsea, the offside flag and post denying Quincy Promes and Edson Alvarez respectively, but there was defensive flexibility and improvement which was most notable from one of Chelsea’s numerous young stars.

2) Ajax may have lost some star power but the verve remains

At times it has felt that Ajax have missed the metronomic effect that Frenkie de Jong has provided to the side, and Matthijs de Ligt’s high-profile departure left fears that this Ajax side may not prove to be the same relentless force as they were last year.

But in a game where the fire of youth was on show for all to see, Ajax demonstrated that the verve and tenacity did not ebb away with the departures of De Jong and De Ligt.

Hakim Ziyech was dangerous if a touch unlucky whenever his left foot touched the ball, Joel Veltman looked solid at centre-back having begun his career at full-back, while Quincy Promes and Donny van de Beek often started Ajax attacks midway in Chelsea’s own half.

3) Cesar Azpilicueta is once again Chelsea’s Mr Reliable

Chelsea supporters will not be surprised to hear that Cesar Azpilicueta made a goal-saving challenge in Amsterdam, and on the occasion of his 350th Chelsea appearance, here was the umpteenth example of why he leads Frank Lampard’s side.

The statistics that were doing the rounds before the game showed that the Spaniard had missed just two of 415 possible matches through either injury or illness, a player managers can always rely on as a mainstay throughout the season.

But that reliability once again extended on to the pitch, and while forays forwards may have been slightly more limited, there were still the crucial interceptions at the back.

A brilliantly timed sliding challenge denied Promes the chance of putting the offside goal behind him, and when stretched it was often the right-back who came to Chelsea’s rescue.

Cesar Azpilicueta was once again Chelsea's rock at the back (Reuters)

4) Hudson-Odoi’s end product is a work in progress

Mason Mount was at times delightful, Tammy Abraham industrious. But for all of the space and tricks in the book, Callum Hudson-Odoi cut a frustrated figure symbolic of the visitors’ ineffective game going forward.

One of the better chances of the first half fell to the winger, but in attempting to replicate Mount’s drive at the near post, Hudson-Odoi fluffed his effort wide in a first-half display that saw him float a cross straight into the hands of Andre Onana from an ominous break.

Amongst his meteoric rise it is often very easy to forget just how young the England winger is, and while there will undoubtedly be more days where he fires blanks, Lampard will be encouraged by the frequency of which he managed to get himself into such promising positions.

Callum Hudson-Odoi endured a frustrating night in front of goal (Getty)

5) Giroud’s Chelsea days appear numbered

Tammy Abraham's dogged performance, chasing lost causes and attempting to unnerve Ajax's backline, meant that he was eventually replaced by Lampard.

But it was Michy Batshuayi, not Olivier Giroud, who replaced Abraham it what appeared to be another indication of Lampard's striker hierarchy.

The Belgian eventually vindicated Lampard's decision by scoring the winner three minutes from the end, having blown a golden opportunity earlier in the half.

The goal was a bittersweet moment for Giroud, who in that moment would have seen another nail added to his career as a Chelsea player.

Having moved to west London to ensure his participation for France at the World Cup, it now appears inevitable that he will have to seek a move away from Stamford Bridge to compete in next year's European Championships.