Ballack: Sturridge can fill the void

BY foxsports • December 21, 2009

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."

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