Ballack - Sturridge can step up

Blues midfielder backs youngster to cover absent strikers

Sturridge: Blues role

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Michael Ballack believes young striker Daniel Sturridge is capable of covering for Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou when they leave next month for the African Cup of Nations.

Sturridge, 20, played a substitute role in Sunday's 1-1 draw with West Ham and will likely have to step into the breech in January when two of the Blues' strikers go overseas.

He will be expected to assist Nicolas Anelka in the coming weeks as Carlo Ancelotti's side bid to maintain their four-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Ballack believes the Under 21 star is capable of dealing with such pressure despite his youth.

He does, however, admit his concerns over the Blues' strike power should Anelka, who suffered a minor muscle strain last week, ever be sidelined.

Step up

"Yes he can (step up) - he has to," said Ballack.

"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."

Getting by

Chelsea will also have to manage without John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien during the African Cup of Nations which runs from January 10th to 31st.

"Of course it's a problem if you lose players of that quality," added 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."