Injured Essien hoping to be back in a month
Michael Essien hopes to be back in action for Chelsea next month after making encouraging progress in his recovery from knee ligament damage.
It was initially feared the powerful Ghana midfielder would miss the entire season after sustaining the injury in September while on international duty.
He played just two matches for Chelsea - against Wigan and Tottenham - before undergoing surgery, robbing the Blues of one of their most consistent performers.
The speed of his rehabilitation means Essien could return for the Premier League fixtures against Manchester City and Tottenham next month.
And should Chelsea negotiate their Champions League last 16 tie against Juventus, he would surely figure in the quarter finals in early April.
''According to rehabilitation physio Thierry Laurent, it should not take more than one month for me to play actively again,'' Essien told 90minutes. ''He has assured me that once we go through a few other exercises for two or three weeks, I should be fit enough to return to the pitch.''
Essien's injury meant he missed virtually the whole of Luiz Felipe Scolari's brief reign at Stamford Bridge.
Indeed the 26-year-old's absence denied Chelsea a key player who Scolari failed to adequately replace, arguably contributing to the Brazilian World Cup winner's downfall.
Guus Hiddink, Scolari's successor, has overseen training this week and Essien approves of the appointment.
''Hiddink has been around for quite a while and knows what it takes to get positive results out of nothing,'' he said. ''He is a fantastic manager so we hope he would bring the magic to give us the strength we need to mount a challenge in all competitions.''
Essien's fellow African Salomon Kalou has also given Hiddink's arrival the thumbs-up.
Kalou spent two complete seasons with Feyenoord, scoring 35 goals in 60 starts, at a time when Hiddink's PSV Eindhoven were the outstanding team in the Dutch league.
But despite the 23-year-old's prolific strike rate, he knows he must prove himself once again before gaining Hiddink's trust.
''At PSV they were strong at the time he was manager,'' the Chelsea forward told the club's official website. ''They were champions for three years, which shows how strong they were. They were very difficult to play against.
''He knows a lot about me because I scored goals in Holland but that is different and we are now in England, a new challenge for me.
''Because he knows me it doesn't mean that I don't have to show a lot, I have to show him and work hard and impress him again.
''Everyone is excited and wants to impress the new manager, so there is a challenge for everybody.
''Those players that weren't playing have a new chance to impress, and those that were now need to show more to keep their position.''