Lampard on course to recover fitness in time to face Barcelona

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The Independent Football

Frank Lampard is winning his battle to be fit for Chelsea's crucial Champions' League second-leg match against Barcelona on Tuesday after the club's medical department placed him on a fast-track fitness programme. They hope it will solve the midfielder's hamstring problem in time for him to train at the Nou Camp on Monday night.

The 27-year-old withdrew from the England squad after feeling the injury, which he picked up against Portsmouth last Saturday, worsen during training at Anfield on Tuesday. He returned to London immediately and has worked intensively with one of the club's physiotherapists, Dean Kenneally, whose area of expertise is hamstring injuries.

Jose Mourinho is making plans to include Lampard in a match in which his side have to overturn a 2-1 deficit. The Chelsea manager has recruited a medical department which makes quick recovery from injuries an absolute priority and although Lampard will not figure against West Bromwich Albion tomorrow the club are confident he will be fit to play at the Nou Camp - the last game of Michael Essien's two-match suspension.

Asier Del Horno, sent off for a foul on Lionel Messi in the first leg, will also be suspended but William Gallas is expected to return from injury after spending the international week recovering.

Chelsea's pursuit of the Germany captain Michael Ballack is close to success after the player's agent, Michael Becker, admitted yesterday that the Premiership champions were leading the way to sign the 29-year-old, who will be available on a free transfer in the summer.

The Bayern Munich midfielder issued a brief statement this week through the German Football Association that denied an agreement had been made but did not rule out the possibility of a move. Becker, who is quoted on his client's future on an almost daily basis in German newspapers, said: "Nothing has been signed but there will be ongoing contact with Chelsea. There is strong interest from both sides. The trend is in this direction. Michael has initially been very keen on Real Madrid. But the leadership changes there in the last few months mean we don't know what's happening."

Ballack is expected to be offered a deal that would make him the highest salaried footballer in the world, on a weekly wage of £121,000, as a partner for Lampard in the centre of midfield. He would be obliged to sign a pre-contract that would legally bind him to sign for Chelsea when his current deal with Bayern expires in July.

Bayern could yet draw Chelsea in this season's Champions' League, as they did last season. Bayern drew 1-1 with Milan in the home leg of their first knockout-round tie. Should Bayern or Chelsea be eliminated in this round it is likely the clubs will agree to make a formal announcement on the deal before the end of the season.

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