The Blues youngsters once again came to the fore on an afternoon when milestones were reached and three points were gained against Crystal Palace
Frank Lampard issued an ultimate vote of confidence in Chelsea’s youth project when he pitted teenage right-back Reece James against one of the Premier League’s most feared wingers in Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha on Saturday afternoon.
The Chelsea manager was rewarded for his show of faith in the 19-year-old with a performance that demonstrated James belongs at the highest level on his first Premier League start.
Zaha may have been limited by the lack of service from his own team-mates, but James fought well against the Ivory Coast international as he passed the latest test thrown at him in Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
It came just four days after his goal helped Chelsea to complete a stunning comeback from 4-1 down at home to Ajax to earn a point in the Champions League as he was selected ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta, who did not start a Premier League game for the first time in two years.
“I’m proud of them and I believe in them and with Reece, Azpi’s our captain, I spoke to him before the game, he’s a great leader for the club and so important for us,” Lampard told BT Sport after the game.
“I just felt today was a game that we can get Reece some minutes because he’s deserving of them the way he’s training and playing and, with Zaha, what better test.
“Every team has players that can hurt you on the counterattack, Zaha is one of the best, but could we hurt them the other way? Could we make him run back more than he ran forward? And I trust Reece defensively so really, really impressive game from him and he’s going to get much better.”
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Lampard started with the youngest team any manager has picked in the English top-flight so far this season, and the youngest in Chelsea’s Premier League history, against a negative Palace side which prioritised trying to contain their opponents.
Chelsea had four academy graduates starting and it was one of those – Tammy Abraham – who vitally broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute.
Mateo Kovacic’s dribble and pass in an all-star performance found Willian, whose deft touch left Abraham one-on-one to beat Vicente Guaita.
It may not have been Abraham’s best display as he was largely shackled by former Chelsea centre-half Gary Cahill, but the striker’s confidence knows no bounds and he stepped up in a rare moment when he could influence the game to score his 10th Premier League goal of the season.
Reaching double figures puts him level with Jamie Vardy in the Golden Boot race and he is the first Englishman to reach 10 goals in a league season for Chelsea since Lampard in 2012-13.
He is also the second youngest player to score 10 Premier League goals for Chelsea after Arjen Robben and, having been given the confidence of the Blues’ coaching staff, he is proving to be better than many of the big-name and expensive No.9s the club have had in recent years.
“Oh, Tammy, Tammy, Tammy, Tammy, Tammy, Tammy Abraham,” was sung by the west Londoners as he came off in the 73rd minute for Michy Batshuayi and the game was then put to bed by another young and in-form sensation when Christian Pulisic’s diving header made it 2-0 in front of the Matthew Harding End. The 21-year-old has been one of Chelsea’s best players in recent weeks and he can now boast a fantastic five goals and five assists since joining from Borussia Dortmund.
The most amazing piece of skill came from the boots of the United States international who, for a moment, looked like Eden Hazard when he produced the skill of the game in a first-half dribble and shot.
There was even a late cameo for Billy Gilmour who appears to be the chosen one for Lampard from the next group of teenagers coming through at the brilliant Cobham academy building.
Chelsea can boast six league wins in a row for the first time since Antonio Conte was in charge when the Blues won the title in 2017.
It is unlikely that Chelsea will be able to compete for the title this season but they have progressed quickly under Lampard with their youngest squad in recent memory.
They will now head into the international break on a high and, after proving he is just the latest member of the squad who can play at Premier League level, James may even dislodge Azpilicueta as Chelsea’s first-choice right-back before the season is up.