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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 13 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Sep 22, 2007

Ballack will be a success at Chelsea - Hargreaves

Manchester United's Owen Hargreaves is convinced Michael Ballack will be a success at Chelsea providing he is given the opportunity.

Ballack's first season at Stamford Bridge was a disappointment and his second is not going too well either.

Currently out of action with an ankle injury that could require a third operation, Ballack does not appear to be the same player who spent four years alongside Hargreaves at Bayern Munich.

Yet Hargreaves is convinced if new Chelsea boss Avram Grant shows a bit more patience with the 30-year-old he will receive ample reward.

'Michael Ballack was extremely successful in Munich,' said Hargreaves. 'He was Player of the Year every season he was there.

'For someone of his size, he has fantastic technical ability and his finishing, with both his head and his feet, is among the best in the world.

'But football is about balance and formations. Different players fit different environments.

'When Michael went there, Chelsea started playing a bit of a different system. They were still trying to find the right balance and he was still trying to adapt.

'But he is a top player and that does not change in one season. People have not seen the best of him by any means but, given an opportunity, I am sure they will.'

Although his Manchester United career has not exactly started smoothly given his own injury problems, Hargreaves is fully ensconced into Old Trafford life.

The 26-year-old headed a United deputation which visited Manchester's Christie Hospital earlier this week, a trip he undertook with young team-mates Danny Simpson and Tom Heaton as part of the recently launched Manchester United Foundation, an organisation set up to raise money for six designated charities.

Hargreaves spent time with young cancer patients as part of the visit, before turning his mind to tomorrow's encounter with Chelsea.

It is a game he might miss as he battles to recover from a thigh injury picked up on international duty with England.

But it is also one he fancies will feature the Premier League's top two come the end of the season, even though Arsenal and Liverpool have been in the best form so far.

'Nothing will be decided until the end of the season but when everything is done, I think you will see Manchester United and Chelsea in the top two, hopefully in that order,' he said.

'It means this is a big game for us. A win will put us in a good position after the results we had at the start of the season.

'We don't want to peak now. We need to be peaking later on. But as Manchester United, we are expected to win every game we play at home and tomorrow is no different just because it is Chelsea.'

However, Hargreaves is willing to concede that, unlike last season, when United and Chelsea surged clear early on and kept the battle to themselves, this year's title race may be more open.

Arsenal have already sent out a significant statement of intent, both in their league form and an impressive Champions League win over Sevilla, while Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has mounted an important recruitment campaign.

'Liverpool have improved dramatically and have signed some key players, who will help them improve,' said Hargreaves.

'They have taken the step they have needed to take because in the last few years they haven't even been close to winning the title. Now they look a very difficult side to beat.

'Other teams like Everton, Newcastle and Blackburn are going to make life hard for the top four and take points off them, so overall, it will make it a tighter race.'