Bayern backing Ballack to come good for Chelsea
Michael Ballack has been given a confidence boost from his former club and Jose Mourinho as Chelsea prepare for tomorrow night's Carling Cup semi-final against Wycombe with a squad ravaged by injuries and suspensions.
Ballack, who joined the club on a free transfer from Bayern Munich in the summer, has had a difficult time adapting to English football and, like Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, has been given a rough ride by his critics.
But while Ballack struggles to find the kind of form that made him such a coveted star in Europe, Mourinho and Bayern Munich general manager Uli Hoeness are banking on him to come good.
Ballack is playing at the head of a midfield diamond under Mourinho and despite suggestions that he would never be able to play in the same department as England's Frank Lampard, the pair have demonstrated the system can accommodate them.
Although he has not been outstanding since his arrival in England, the 30-year-old will continue to play a pivotal part in Mourinho's team.
Mourinho said: 'He is in the team because not the fans, the president or journalists pick it, but because I do.
'Michael has not done anything amazing yet, but he is a team player and sacrifices himself for the team. That is another reason why he plays,' Mourinho said on Germany's ARD TV.
Meanwhile Hoeness believes that Ballack's indifferent form for his new club is the result of confusion at Stamford Bridge.
Hoeness explained: 'I think Chelsea have bought these star players without working out where and how they will fit into the side.
'They need to decide where his best position is. It's difficult for Michael to be seen at his best, because he is such a similar player to Frank Lampard.
'Both like to attack and get forward, but one of them also has to get back and defend.
'I think there's a lot of confusion as to what people's roles are. Look at (Andriy) Shevchenko, Chelsea thought he would be their main striker, but (Didier) Drogba has done far better, and now they are trying to play both. They need to work out a system and settle on it.'
Ballack played 107 times for Munich before opting to move to England and Hoeness urged Chelsea fans to give him time to prove himself.
He added: 'Remember he had an extremely tiring World Cup, and he has obviously been feeling the effects.
'I remember in 1974, Bayern were 12th in the league after six months, and that was because (there were) six of us (in the squad) who had won the World Cup, and it took a long time to recover from.
'But we were champions at the end of the season, so people should judge top players after a full season.
'The criticism doesn't surprise me, as it goes with most top players when they move clubs.'
Chelsea will face Wycombe in the first leg with the loss of Drogba and defender Ricardo Carvalho - leaving Mourinho without a recognised central defender.
England captain John Terry, recovering from keyhole surgery on his back, should return for their Premiership match against Wigan on Saturday but not for tomorrow night's game.
Instead Mourinho will depend on right-back Paulo Ferreira and midfielder Michael Essien to hold the defence together.
As well as Terry, Mourinho is also without Joe Cole (foot), Petr Cech (skull), Carlo Cudicini (thigh), Arjen Robben (hamstring) and Khalid Boulahrouz (knee).
Meanwhile, the club's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, has rejected suggestions that Mourinho's Chelsea future was in doubt.
Reports last weekend suggested Mourinho was considering his future at Chelsea - claiming that his relationships with Kenyon and owner Roman Abramovich were strained.
Mourinho has also been linked with a switch to Real Madrid but Kenyon insisted: 'That is an old story (about firing Mourinho) that is being re-run at the moment. I think that is probably because we are six points behind Manchester United. Such is the intensity in England for news. But there is absolutely no truth (in the reports).'