Erik ten Hag insisted on Tuesday that his Ajax side have put last season’s Champions League heartbreak behind them as they prepare to take their blistering early-season form into an intriguing clash with Chelsea’s young guns.
The Dutch champions had a place in last season’s final snatched away from them with seconds to go by Tottenham Hotspur and lost star players Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt in the summer but it hasn’t put a stop to their re-emergence as a European force.
Ajax lead Group H after winning both their opening Champions League matches 3-0, against Lille and Valencia. They now go into a double-header with Chelsea with hopes they can repeat last season’s thrilling run, which saw them dump out Real Madrid and Juventus before falling to Spurs in the last four.
“We have to forget that (last season) now because we live in the future. We live now. And now we have to perform,” Ten Hag told reporters ahead of Wednesday’s match at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Ten Hag’s side look to have brushed off last year’s disappointment, as they are unbeaten in all competitions and top of the Eredivisie averaging more than three goals a game.
“Last year was last year, we’re building a new team … we start the season very well and now we have to step up and become game-to-game better,” added Ten Hag.
Standing in his side’s way in the next two group games is a rapidly developing Chelsea team that is packed with home-grown talent and on a run of five straight wins in all competitions.
Frank Lampard has reinvigorated a Blues side that lost Eden Hazard in the summer with players like Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham, with Callum Hudson-Odoi back in the mix after a long-term ankle injury.
“When I see them they want to play football, they want to play in the opponents’ half, they want to press high and they want to stay in the opponents’ half. That’s pretty similar to Ajax,” said Ten Hag.
“I think they want to go as far as we did, but of course we want to avoid that.”
Abraham has starred with eight goals in nine league appearances and got the opener in Chelsea’s 2-1 win at Lille, and is set to start at one of the homes of youth development.
“He’s doing very well at the moment, he’s a good striker,” said Ajax defender Daley Blind, a former Manchester United player.
“I’ll prepare myself as I always do, you have to defend not just against a striker but a whole team, and we attack as a team and defend like a team.”