Tammy Abraham showed just why he has been linked with a call-up to the England squad with his first Champions League goal in Chelsea’s 2-1 win in Lille as Frank Lampard reaped the rewards of placing his faith in youth on the European stage.
Abraham marked his 22nd birthday with the first goal 22 minutes in at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday, although it was Willian who got the London club’s winner late on as they bounced back from losing to Valencia in their Group H opener.
The striker had already been tipped for a recall to the England squad ahead of the match in France, with Gareth Southgate’s side having a Euro 2020 qualifying double-header against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria this month.
He has been capped twice before in friendlies in late 2017 while on loan at Swansea City, although there has been speculation that he could still declare for Nigeria, for whom he is eligible through his father.
“I haven’t made a decision yet. I’m just focused on the club right now and we just won today,” Abraham said after scoring his eighth goal of the season on Wednesday.
“I think Tammy is handling that situation as he handles everything in life,” Lampard said.
“He takes it with enthusiasm, happiness, a desire to work. Of course, he wants to be the best and with that comes international recognition.”
Lampard added: “He is hungry for goals, he is physical, he gives everything for the team, he has quality when the ball is at his feet and of course there is an improvement to be had and he is competitive.”
Abraham was one of four Chelsea academy products in the starting line-up alongside central defender Fikayo Tomori — eligible for England, Nigeria and Canada — midfielder Mason Mount and full-back Reece James.
The latter, aged just 19 and on loan at Wigan Athletic last season, only made his first-team debut last week against Grimsby Town in the League Cup.
James was taken off midway through the second half to make way for another academy product in 18-year-old winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, who set up the winner.
“Reece James was thrown into his first game in the Champions League and looked so comfortable,” said Lampard.
– Pulisic nowhere to be seen –
Chelsea is finally making use of the many talents coming through their youth system, even if their hand has been forced by a transfer ban, and Wednesday’s win was their third in a row.
To many it is about time that they did so — after all, Chelsea won six out of seven FA Youth Cups between 2012 and 2018 and have been to four of the last five finals in the UEFA Youth League.
The four young starters on Wednesday were all playing on loan in the second tier last season.
“Reece was saying how he was fighting for relegation and now we are in the Champions League which has always been a dream to me,” Abraham told Chelsea TV.
While the academy products make the headlines, two other players were notable by their absence.
England midfielder Ross Barkley was missing after being filmed on a night out in Liverpool on Sunday, and Christian Pulisic was nowhere to be seen.
The USA winger is just 21 so wouldn’t be out of place in this side, but he has spent the last month warming the bench, only seeing action in the League Cup.
Pulisic was not even among the substitutes in Lille, raising further questions about a player signed for £58 million ($74m) from Borussia Dortmund in January.