Frank Lampard said he “believed and trusted” in striker Tammy Abraham as he prepared to unleash his young players against Valencia in Chelsea’s Champions League opener on Tuesday.
Abraham, 21, scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win at Wolves on Saturday but his form has come as no surprise to Lampard.
“I never had clear expectations for him apart from the fact that I believed in him and trusted him,” he said at a press conference on Monday at Chelsea’s training base.
“I know a lot was made of the [transfer] ban giving opportunities for young players. But I thought now was his time.”
As for the possibility of England missing out on Abraham should he opt to play for Nigeria, Lampard said: “That’s not a question for me.
“He has put himself in a bracket by being a top-scorer in England. It is one for [England boss] Gareth [Southgate] but it is clear Tammy will be wanted.”
Abraham who is the Premier League’s joint-leading scorer alongside Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero with seven goals, has two senior England caps won in friendlies.
Nigeria have been hoping Abraham can be persuaded to switch allegiance to them.
And when asked about the Nigeria interest, he was quoted by the Telegraph newspaper as saying: “I have heard the talks and I’ve not really been focused on that yet.
“I think when the time comes, the time comes. We never know.”
Lampard has put his faith in youth during a transfer embargo for the club and has been rewarded with some impressive performances.
As well as Abraham’s three goals, Fikayo Tomori, 21, also struck his first goal for the club at Molineux, while 20-year-old Mason Mount continued the form that earned him an England call-up with his third goal in four Premier League games.
Former Chelsea midfielder Lampard, who won the Champions League with the club as a player, will be making his debut in the competition as a manager.
“I will be proud to do it,” he said. “I had multiple incredible nights in the Champions League – and some bad ones – but it is the ultimate for me.”
The Chelsea boss was cautious in his expectations for last season’s Europa League winners.
“Our target is to qualify from a tough group,” he said. “I have belief in the players. I’m confident but very aware of the dangers.”
Lampard will be facing a new manager in Albert Celades, who was appointed last week after the shock sacking of Marcelino.
Valencia’s players are understood to be unhappy with the decision but Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga warned they would still be dangerous.
Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger will miss the match after tweaking a groin while Lampard revealed N’Golo Kante and Callum Hudson-Odoi were not match fit.