Ballack backs Sturridge to take his chance at Chelsea
Michael Ballack is backing 20-year-old Daniel Sturridge to help fill the striking void at Chelsea when Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou leave next month for the African Nations Cup.
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 Barclays 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.
“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 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.”