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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

Barclays Premier League
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By ESPN Staff

Essien welcomes fight for places at Chelsea

Michael Essien insists he is unconcerned by the competition for places in Chelsea's midfield.

Essien was a regular in the Chelsea line-up last season but he could be squeezed out by the arrival of Germany captain Michael Ballack.

Jose Mourinho wants to use Ballack and Frank Lampard in tandem and will not drop anchorman Claude Makelele, leaving no space for Essien in the Chelsea manager's preferred three-man midfield.

If reports that Mourinho will switch to a 4-4-2 formation in order to accommodate Andriy Shevchenko and Didier Drogba prove correct, Essien may find first-team opportunities even more limited.

The change would bring attacking players Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Arjen Robben into the midfield equation.

Essien said: 'There will be more competition but it's up to us to work harder in training and to let the boss decide who will play.

'I'm not worried about the situation - I'm happy we have so many top-class players.

'As a young player I can only improve when I work with people like Ballack. He's a good player and there is more to come from me at Chelsea.'

Essien, a £24.4million signing from Lyon, was criticised in some quarters for his physical style last season.

His foul tackle on Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann during the Champions League goalless draw at Stamford Bridge in December landed him a two-match ban from UEFA.

Another fearsome challenge on Bolton's Tal Ben Haim was followed by an elbow on Arsenal full-back Lauren as Essien began to establish an unwanted reputation.

But the 23-year-old Ghanaian international believes the criticism was undeserved.

He said: 'I don't think I deserved to have my style looked at last year but it's forgotten. Hopefully this season will be different.'

Chelsea have paved the way for Ashley Cole's arrival at Stamford Bridge by allowing Asier Del Horno to join Valencia.

The Blues have agreed a fee - thought to be £4.8million - for Del Horno who has travelled to the Primera Liga club to thrash out personal terms.