Ballack: Sturridge can fill the void

Michael Ballack says Daniel Sturridge can fill the void left by

Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou when they go on African Nations Cup

duty.

Sturridge came off the bench for his third Chelsea appearance

against West Ham in the 1-1 draw at Upton Park on Sunday.

And German midfielder Ballack believes the youngster must

step up to help Nicolas Anelka, who suffered a minor muscle strain

last week, as Chelsea battle to preserve their four-point lead at

the top of the Premier League.

It is a tough ask of the former Manchester City and England

Under-21 star, whose claim to fame is that he is the only player

ever to score in the FA Youth Cup, FA Cup and Premier League in the

same season.

But Ballack said: “Yes he can (step up)- he has to. We will

miss Didier as well as Kalou. We have to hope that nothing happens

to Nico (Anelka)because he will be our main striker. He has not

been in good shape this past week but hopefully he can recover and

there will be no other injuries.

“Daniel is still a young player but now he has a big chance

to show his qualities, which he has – that’s why he’s at Chelsea.

“He has been a bit unlucky with injury, but he has come back

at the right time and has an opportunity to get more games and help

the team.”

Chelsea will also lose Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel for

the African Nations Cup in Angola which runs from January 10-31.

It could be a defining part of their season, although the

good news is that they do not play any of the Big Four during that

period.

“Of course it’s a problem if you lose players of that

quality,” said Ballack. “They would be a big miss for us if they

were gone a week, but they are away for four to five weeks.

“But we have handled this in the past and hopefully the

players behind them, like Daniel, have the quality to close this

gap. They have to be confident and I’m sure we will cope with this

period.”

First, they have a tough away trip to in-form Birmingham on

Saturday before they host Fulham, 3-0 conquerors of Manchester

United, on Monday.

Ballack, however, is confident the team can cope with the

pressure of being front-runners.

He said: “If someone told us we’d be four points clear at

Christmas at the beginning of the season, we’d have taken it for

sure.

“We have to keep our focus because we have a difficult time

ahead with two games in three days.

“It’s hard in this period, but we have shown before that we

can handle the situation, especially with our squad, so hopefully

we can take the three points in those games.

“I can’t remember being top at Christmas before and obviously

it’s better if you are leading the table rather than chasing

because if you’re behind you have to keep winning to put the

pressure on the team at the top.

“But it’s still open. A lot of teams are doing well behind us

like Arsenal, Aston Villa and of course Manchester United.”